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Trump Organization CFO Granted Immunity in Cohen Probe; Trump- North Korea Nuclear Negotiations Falling Apart?. Aired 3-3:30p ET
Aired August 24, 2018 - 15:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR: We will see where this one goes. And it may be difficult to keep up, because so many names, so many different legal cases.
President Trump is certainly no stranger to the litigation. He has often threatened to use it himself. But Michael Cohen's case is just one in a volume of legal troubles currently involving or looming over the president.
And, for more on that, I want to bring in CNN crime and justice reporter Shimon Prokupecz, because, Shimon, help us out here. Put it all together when it comes to the president's legal battles.
SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: No, there certainly is a lot, Ana. Every day perhaps, we're reporting on new developments and all that is going on.
And, of course, Kara there just laid out what right now is dominating stories, and that is the Michael Cohen investigation, which really when you think about it puts the president in the most jeopardy right now.
You have an individual there, Michael Cohen, who has essentially implicated the president, has said that the president helped him, he directed and he coordinated with the president in these payments which, of course, as Kara there laid out, federal prosecutors have charged Michael Cohen with and he pled guilty to.
Now, the other big one is obviously the Robert Mueller investigation. That is still ongoing with a lot yet to come. The big thing there right now is the obstruction investigation, whether the president finally decides to meet with Robert Mueller and his team to answer their questions. That is still ongoing.
Of course, the two women here, Karen McDougal and then Stormy Daniels, who are part of the Michael Cohen investigation, who received the hush payments. And then you have Summer Zervos here who is seeing the president for defamation, and in that case really where perhaps has the most exposure is the issue of whether or not he is going to be deposed.
His lawyers have been fighting that case, claiming a U.S. -- a sitting president cannot be sued. Judges there in New York saying, no, that is not the case and are allowing that case to produce. And, of course, you have the emoluments lawsuit that is being brought by the attorney generals, lawyers there who want information on some of the foreign business that the president and the Trump Organization has been involved in.
And all of this really, Ana, when you think about it, none of it, none of it is going away anytime soon. But the big one, the big one that's still lingering, that's still ongoing is, of course, the Robert Mueller investigation.
CABRERA: Shimon Prokupecz, thank you. Our thanks to Kara Scannell as well.
Let's go to our legal experts now.
I have with me Elie Honig, former federal prosecutor in the Southern District of New York, which is the Justice Department office investigating Cohen, and criminal defense attorney Rachel Kugel.
So let's start with this latest information, that Weisselberg is granted immunity. I spoke with another lawyer involved in the Trump University case who tells me that Weisselberg really is the only non- family member who was allowed to write checks for the Trump Organization.
He says that Weisselberg probably knows times what Cohen know.
Elie, what information would he be privy to?
ELIE HONIG, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: So I think that person's right. I think he will have all the books. And the person who has the books and the finances will have the inside track on any number of crimes.
And you can see right now the Southern District is circling particularly around this campaign finance allegation. Just this week alone, Michael Cohen enters the plea on Tuesday, admits that he committed this crime. The judge accepts it. It is a crime, contrary to some of the propaganda that's out there.
Judge Pauley said, yes, that is a crime. Now you have immunity being granted to Weisselberg and to Mr. Pecker. And this what the Southern District does. They smell blood in the water and they go get it.
Immunity is sort of a version of cooperation. And it means that the Southern District has looked at these two individuals and they both invoked the Fifth Amendment, because they both have some criminal exposure. And the Southern District has made the judgment they have something valuable that we want and we're willing to give them a pass via immunity to get it.
CABRERA: So immunity is big, Rachel. Do you think this could signal this goes beyond Cohen?
RACHEL KUGEL, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: So I mean, not really, because the type of immunity he was given and granted related to Cohen. It doesn't sound like it was carte blanche immunity for anything he may have done ever.
But it sounds like it's related to Cohen. It sounds like it preceded to plea that ultimately came forward with Cohen. In other words, he spoke -- he spoke about Cohen. Maybe Cohen and his attorneys, knowing this was out there, it's part of what prompted them to enter the plea that they did the other day.
CABRERA: Do you agree?
HONIG: I'm going to respectfully disagree. We -- defense lawyers and prosecutors sometimes do.
HONIG: It's not just limited to Cohen. It would be anyone who's involved in these payments.
The information lists individual one, individual two. There's speculation out there about who those people would be, but when someone gets immunity, it's not you just have immunity to testify as to Michael Cohen. It's you have immunity. You give us your whole testimony. We, the prosecutors, will sort out who needs to get charged off of that.
So it's never limited to one individual.
KUGEL: Well, it can depend, though. I mean, so it may not be with regard to state crimes, for example. I know there was some talk today of that the state -- the district attorney locally looking into Trump's issues as well.
It's not just general immunity for all things everywhere, but specifically as it relates to this.
CABRERA: Let me ask you about what you just brought up, because this is the U.S. attorney who granted immunity to Weisselberg in the Cohen case.
But, as you point out, we learned the Manhattan DA, according to "The New York Times," is also considering pursuing a criminal case involving the Trump Organization and two of its executive.
Do you think that those two jurisdictions are talking to each other?
HONIG: I would guess they are.
One of the hallmarks of effective law enforcement and prosecution is cooperating with other offices. In fact, if you look back at the Cohen case, it seems to be the case that that sprung out of the state's investigation of this taxi king guy Freidman.
So good prosecutor's offices -- and these are all very good prosecutor's offices -- always communicate, talk. The lingo is deconflict, make sure we're not stepping on each other's toes. Make sure we're not crossing each other up. I would expect that to happen here.
CABRERA: Would an immunity deal apply to them as well?
HONIG: Good question. Technically, it's only federal immunity, but I think most states would -- it's sort of in the name of fair dealing and good faith -- would honor an immunity agreement as well.
KUGEL: As a defense attorney, I would not rely on their fair dealing and good faith. I want that in writing. I want to know that my client has got immunity from the state standpoint too before we're going to talk about anything related...
CABRERA: The Trump Organization is sort of at the center of both of these cases now, at least when it pertains to Weisselberg.
Who is at risk? Should the Trump family be worried?
KUGEL: I mean, I think that they have to be worried because clearly there is that whole blood in the water thing. There are -- no one wants prosecutors going after them, looking at their lives and gunning for them. I mean, that's not something anybody wants.
I have yet to see a crime. And we did hear tapes. We heard these Cohen tapes a few weeks ago. If there -- if he had the goods, if there was a crime committed, why didn't we hear it the other day when we heard it on that tape? There was no crime in that tape.
So I feel like if Cohen really had the goods, we would have heard it then and we didn't. So while I'm sure no one likes to have the government prosecutors in their lives in that way, and they should be worried, but I haven't yet seen a crime.
CABRERA: Elie, I wonder too if because this not Mueller's probe, remember,he peeled it off, gave it to the Southern District of New York, now we're also talking about not only the Southern District of New York, but the Manhattan DA.
I mean, Trump had once said that his family finances would be a red line if Mueller crossed that. Again, not Mueller. Could the president get involved in any way in this?
HONIG: He certainly might try. If anyone might try, it would be him. But I think then we're getting really into dangerous territory of obstruction of justice.
If he tries to shut it down because it's going a place he doesn't like, he being the president, how is that possibly justifiable? How is that legal?
The president doesn't get to say, OK, Department of Justice, I want you looking here, but you may not cross this line into here or I will shut you down, especially when they -- over here is his own information. To me, that's straight out obstruction of justice. And obstruction of
justice, I think some perspective is important here. I once did a case where we convict -- tried and convicted somebody of obstructing justice because he tried unsuccessfully to get one witness to change one fact of her testimony.
Here we have Trump trying to burn the whole thing down. So to me this is flagrant obstruction of justice.
CABRERA: Rachel, which of the current cases, investigations should President Trump be most concerned about?
KUGEL: So, again, I mean, I haven't really heard a crime. We're talking about -- obviously, you should be concerned about all of it. No one wants this and politically there are bigger problems politically for him certainly.
But, legally, most of what he's accused of doing, while it might be immoral, while it might be sort of icky to pay hush money, I'm not sure any of that rises to the level of a crime. Even the campaign finance stuff, Cohen may have committed a crime. That doesn't mean that Trump committed a crime.
I haven't yet heard the crime.
CABRERA: Elie, do you agree?
KUGEL: Yes, well, we have certainly heard a crime as to Michael Cohen, as to others who were involved. I think there is an open question as to what exactly was the president's involvement.
Michael Cohen said under oath in open court the president -- I did this with, and for the president. Now, that needs to be tested still. But I think ultimately the biggest threat to the president is from the Mueller investigation. I think that's the one that -- if they if they hit the mark there, that's the only one that can really take him down politically.
CABRERA: Thank you both. Always good to have you with us. Great expertise and insight. Thanks.
On this Friday, we have more breaking news, this time in North Korea, President Trump abruptly calling off the nuclear talks, canceling a trip by his secretary of state. That was supposed to happen next week. What's behind the change in plan?
Plus, bad news, Cindy McCain tweeting, "I love my husband with all of my heart," after announcing he will discontinue treatment for brain cancer.
We will hear Senator John McCain in his own words about how he wants to be remembered when his life passes.
And, later, the man who wrote "Goodfellas" says he is seeing some eerie similarities between mob bosses and President Trump. We will dig into how some of the president's language is borrowed from the mafia.
CABRERA: The first president ever to grant a sit-down meeting with North Korea's leader is now admitting the follow-up is not going as he had hoped. President Trump is now calling off a U.S. trip to North Korea over lack of progress on nuclear disarmament.
It has been nearly two-and-a-half months since his summit with Kim Jong-un. And just a short time ago, he tweeted this: "I have asked Secretary of State Mike Pompeo not to go to North Korea at this time, because I feel we are not making sufficient progress with respect to the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula."
Joining us now, CNN senior diplomatic correspondent Michelle Kosinski and CNN political analyst Josh Rogin, who is also a columnist for "The Washington Post."
Michelle this trip was just announced yesterday. Why the about-face?
MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN SENIOR DIPLOMATIC CORRESPONDENT: I know.
This is perplexing, especially since through our sources we knew days ago that this trip was planned. So we started to think, OK, that must mean that the North Koreans have possibly showed -- at the very least showed some willingness to play ball this time, since things have been going badly.
I mean, it was only a couple of weeks ago we heard the national security adviser saying that things were not where they wanted them to be, even in the process of getting started on the path towards denuclearization.
So then yesterday they had this big event where they gathered the press at the State Department. The secretary of state announced that we have a new envoy to North Korea now, they're all going to North Korea next week. Good news, it seemed.
We did ask the State Department just yesterday, does this mean that this is because there's been some additional progress? They wouldn't say anything about it. Then, all of a sudden today, the president via a series of tweets announces that this isn't happening, that, no, there appears to be no progress. But he makes it all about China.
He says that China isn't helping in this process. And let's maybe wait and see and get together soon with the North Koreans once we work out the trade deal with China.
So it seems like this is absolutely coming from the White House. Possibly more to do with trade with China than anything changing on the North Korean side, because things have not been going well there. But what is the State Department saying about this right now? Absolutely nothing, Ana.
Josh, right after the summit with Kim Jong-un, Trump hailed in a tweet that there was -- quote -- "no longer a nuclear threat from North Korea."
And now he's admitting it's not going well. This is really a change in tone and one that doesn't come often from this president.
JOSH ROGIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: What we're seeing is that Trump's private frustration with the progress of North Korea's nuclear diplomacy spilling out into public view, actually, for the very first time.
And what that reflects is a change in the internal battle inside the top level of the Trump administration over what's going on, how bad is it, and what we should do about it.
National Security Adviser John Bolton, but not just Bolton, a lot of others, have been pushing the president privately to take what they call a more realistic approach, but what others call a more hawkish approach. And that means talking tough to Kim Jong-un, acknowledging what they see as the reality that there has been no progress to denuclearization, and considering a pivot to a stance that's more public, more confrontational, might include more pressure mechanisms like sanctions.
And it seems that today those hard-liners have won the day, because the president is now taking that exact public position. Now, that doesn't mean we know what's going to happen tomorrow. Remember, this could be a tactical play by the president.
Right before the Singapore summit, he canceled the summit and everybody panicked. And then a few days later, it was back on when Kim Jong-un did something to prove that he was still interested. So we have to entertain the possibility that the president is sending a signal to North Korea and also to China, cut the crap, get going on the things that we want you to get going on, and then everything can be OK again.
And one last thing is that when the president says at the end, I look forward to seeing you soon, but you're not going to see Mike Pompeo, well, isn't he cutting his own top diplomat off at the knees by canceling his trip one day later and saying, Kim Jong-un, deal with me, I'm the president, and we will talk about dealing with Pompeo at some other time.
It's pretty astounding.
CABRERA: Or is he trying to have it both ways, sort of maintain the close friendship, so to speak with Kim Jong-un, but at the same time saying you're not going to get...
ROGIN: Sticks and carrots.
CABRERA: Go ahead, Michelle.
KOSINSKI: You have President Trump at the same time simultaneously in his own self playing good cop/bad cop here, and signing this series of tweets, like regards and respect and look forward to seeing you soon, as if something is going to happen soon.
But he's saying, we're going to play hardball, but I have a lot of respect for you and look forward to seeing you. I mean, it's really hard to figure out what is going on here and what the U.S. side wants to see.
And U.S. allies are saying the same. They're reacting to this like what's going on, and they're not getting a lot of answers either.
CABRERA: And, Josh, you wrote a piece right before this announcement about this being a moment of truth for Secretary of State Mike Pompeo going to North Korea on this issue of denuclearization.
What is the reality about what's happening by North Korea when it comes to its nuclear program?
ROGIN: Well, while there have been several steps to build confidence and reduce tension, like bringing home remains of U.S. soldiers, stopping missile tests -- and those are all good things -- on the actual denuclear track, there has been little to zero progress, OK?
And the last time Mike Pompeo to Pyongyang, he didn't even get a meeting with Kim. The North Koreans blasted him as soon as they left. It was largely viewed as a humiliation.
Now, this time, there was a good chance that could happen again. And that would have been a huge blow to our whole diplomatic effort. It was a risk that Mike Pompeo was willing to take, along with his new special envoy, Steve Biegun, who was going to go to Pyongyang with him.
And now they have decided not to take that risk, OK? And that just shows you that there is an acknowledgement inside this administration that this is not going as well as they wanted to and they feel like they have to do something different.
And Mike Pompeo wanted to just keep pushing to try to unjam this thing, and he got overruled, OK? And now he can't go. And now we're having to wait for Kim Jong-un to make the next move.
CABRERA: Josh Rogin, Michelle Kosinski, thank you both.
ROGIN: Thank you.
CABRERA: Back to our breaking news. The Trump Organization's moneyman getting immunity in the Michael Cohen investigation -- details on what Allen Weisselberg may know and what that means for President Trump's mounting legal troubles.
CABRERA: Now to our breaking news. President Trump's loyal circle is crumbling.
We are now learning of yet another immunity deal, this time for the Trump Organization's chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg. He was granted immunity by federal prosecutors for providing information about Michael Cohen.
A source previously told CNN Weisselberg knows -- quote -- "anything and everything" about the finances of the Trump Organization.
CNN anchor Michael Smerconish joins us now.
Michael, what do you make of this new immunity deal?
MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, on the surface, it doesn't make sense. There has to be much more going on here than meets the eye.
Michael Cohen is not a mob boss, right? You don't have to treat this case like it's the prosecution of John Gotti and give everybody else immunity, especially where Michael Cohen walked into the feds and told them what he knew.
If you already have Pecker, why do you need Weisselberg and vice versa? I just cannot believe this is all about offering immunity to both Pecker and Weisselberg to go after Michael Cohen alone. If I were the president, I think I would be very nervous about what's going on in the Southern District of New York.
And, frankly, Ana, I don't think that you put together all these immunity deals if the only thing you're going after is conspiracy to commit election fraud. So, I can't fully explain it to you. But I am absolutely not buying the explanation that the feds gave immunity to these two individuals just to go after Michael Cohen.
And if I were Michael Cohen, I would be saying, geez, why didn't they give me immunity? None of it makes sense.
CABRERA: You mentioned Michael Cohen and the word mob boss. Other people have used mob boss in talking about President Trump himself this week, given some of the language he has used about flipping, some of the comments he's made about Manafort and the conviction there.
"The New York Times" has an article out today where the guy who wrote "Goodfellas" draws some similarities between Trump and a mob boss.
Quoting from the article here, it writes: "'When I first heard that Trump said to Comey, let this go, it just rang such a bell with me,' said Nicholas Pileggi, an author who has chronicled the mafia and books and films like 'Goodfellas' and 'Casino.' 'Trump was surrounded by these people. Being raised in that environment, it was normalized to him.'"
Michael, what's your take?
SMERCONISH: My take is that the president has a very attenuated ear and that he knows how to reach his base. And maybe it's a guy thing.
Those of us who can recite every single line from "Godfather" one and two, three, not so much. But I think he taps into a vein of some support that exists for those that the feds are going after. I think he knows what he's doing in this regard.
And he's laying a predicate on us so that he can later say, well, look, they invested all that time and all that money and this is the best they could come up with?
CABRERA: I have talked to Trump supporters who say they still love it that he doesn't talk like a politician. I'm not sure if this is what they had in mind, the parallels with a mob boss, though.
There has been some more talk, by the way, this week, frankly, from the president himself, of the possibility of impeachment. And yet Democrats, Michael, have been a little wishy-washy on this issue. What is the risk of raising that if you're a Democrat/
SMERCONISH: Well, I think that the Democratic ideologues, those who are on the far left of the party, really want this, and for them that's what the midterm election is all about, retake control of the House, then by a majority get an impeachment vote and throw it over to the Senate.
But, look, we don't know what Mueller knows. But if this all that exists with regard to the president, meaning that allegedly he participated with Michael Cohen to make sure that hush money was paid to a Playmate and/or porn star, I just don't think that rises to the impeachment test.
We ran that experiment or one like it in the 1990s. So I think that the Democratic Party needs to be very careful not to prematurely overplay their hand, keep your powder dry, and see where, if at all, this investigation goes in a big sense.
CABRERA: Anderson Cooper just interviewed a Manafort juror who voted to convict him on all counts, even though, ultimately, he was only convicted on eight of the 18.
She is also a Trump supporter. And the full interview, by the way, airs tonight.
But listen to the part -- this part of what she said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: How would you feel if -- if the president pardoned Paul Manafort?