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Weisselberg Given Immunity; McCain Discontinuing Treatment; John McCain's Personal and Professional Life. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired August 24, 2018 - 12:00   ET


[12:00:00] NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN ANCHOR: Huge stories we're following for you this hour.

Another day, another flip. The Trump Organization's top money man is the latest Trump insider to cooperate with federal prosecutors.

And disheartening news from Arizona. John McCain's family says the senator has made the decision to discontinue treatment in his long, difficult battle with cancer. More on the senator later.

But we begin with breaking news.

CNN confirming that Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg cooperated with federal prosecutors in exchange for immunity, or as the president might say, he flipped. "The Wall Street Journal" first broke this story. And a source now tells CNN that Weisselberg provided information about Michael Cohen and hush money deals the president's former fixer brokered weeks ahead of the 2016 election.

CNN's Kara Scannell joins me now.

Kara, what do we know about the extent of Weisselberg's cooperation?

KARA SCANNELL, CNN REPORTER: Well, Nia, sources tell Evan Perez and I that Weisselberg was brought in and he did interview with the U.S. attorney's office in Manhattan several weeks ago, that the interview was focused on the payments that the Trump Organization made to Michael Cohen, which Michael Cohen had plead guilty to earlier this week as campaign finance violations.

And we're that Weisselberg has not been called back. So, at this point, it appears as though their interest in Weisselberg and his participation with the U.S. attorney's office was very specific to Michael Cohen. We're still reporting this story, but it appears that Weisselberg was in a few weeks ago. He did answer questions about Michael Cohen and payments that were made to him out of -- in connection with these campaign finance violations, Nia.

HENDERSON: Thanks for that report, Kara.

CNN legal analyst Paul Callan joins me now.

Paul, how potentially damaging is Weisselberg's cooperation for the president? PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It could be very damaging for the

president because Weisselberg is someone who has been involved in the Trump Organization really throughout its history. As a matter of fact, he even worked for the president's father, Fred Trump, back in the early years of the Trump Organization. So he's obviously someone who is intimately familiar with how finances were handled.

If -- and if the focus initially was on the hush money payments to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal, prosecutors would want to know, where did that money come from? Did it come from corporate funds, or did it come from personal funds of the president? Now, that, of course, would be important because if it's coming from organizational funds, the question is, is that taxable income when you're using it for personal purposes. On the other hand, if it came out of a Trump -- a Donald Trump trust fund, which I understand Weisselberg also manages, it might not be any kind of a financial tax crime.

So he's somebody who has very, very important information which could be helpful to the prosecutors. Not only in the Cohen case, but if they want to dig deeper into the Trump Organization.

HENDERSON: And CNN is reporting that Weisselberg's cooperation seems to be limited to the Cohen probe. But what would prosecutors need to call Weisselberg back and ask him to provide information about other potential crimes?

CALLAN: Well, I think -- you know, what always happens in these federal investigations, and we saw it in the Manafort case, when they start looking at a particular issue, sometimes they stumble across other things that turn out to be criminal in nature. And that's, I think, one of the reasons why the president is probably as upset as he has been sounding this week is, once they start looking into the inner workings of the Trump Organization, there's a lot to look at there.

Now, you know, maybe it's all been above board and legal, but nobody likes federal agents and investigators poring over their financial records. So this is a door to -- and an opportunity for prosecutors to look at the Trump Organization if they wish to. Our reporting though is that so far at least it's only been focused on Cohen. So we'll have to see where the story goes.

HENDERSON: And you sort of talk about this door that has in some ways been opened now. Could the extent of his cooperation eventually, potentially include information about the president's tax returns?

CALLAN: Yes, it absolutely could. And I think another very interesting issue is, you know, does Weisselberg just go back to work at the Trump Organization? Given what the president has said about what he describes as flippers, and how it's reprehensible and maybe should be made illegal, it looks like the chief financial officer of the Trump Organization is a flipper. And maybe somebody who's even managing some of the president's own personal finances. So that would be an interesting conversation to see where -- how Weisselberg's position will be affected in the Trump Organization.

HENDERSON: Yes, certainly imagine that will be awkward going forward. Thanks for that, Paul.

CALLAN: Thank you.

[12:05:00] HENDERSON: And here with me now to share their reporting and their insights, CNN's Abby Phillip, Carl Hulse with "The New York Times," Eliana Johnson with "Politico," and CNN's Shimon Prokupecz.

Shimmy, I'm just going to start with you on this.

How worried should Trump be about this?

SIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: I think he should be very worried about this. And I'll tell you one of the things that's most remarkable on this, who benefitted out of this? In all of this, the person that benefitted out of this was the president. So if he wasn't the president, if he was a private citizen, chances are we'd be facing a very different situation here. And it's likely that he would have been indicted in this. Because when you look at the people that -- this is clearly about the hush money, right, like, because they brought in Pecker, "The National Enquirer" guy. They gave him immunity. At least that's what "The Wall Street Journal" is reporting. Now we learn that the CFO gets immunity. So clearly this is about money. It's about these hush payments. And there's one person that benefitted in all of this.

So clearly they wanted to bring everyone in. And whoever they could get to help cooperate in this investigation, Michael Cohen, they didn't want, because he was probably the closest person to the president that was involved in this. He was -- right, he was in the middle of all of this. But if I was the president, I certainly would be worried about this.

And the other thing that can happen here now that all these guys have immunity, is that they can go before Congress and not fear any kind of prosecution. And it's clear that Weisselberg was concerned about being prosecuted for this, which is why his attorneys got him immunity. And he probably would have been prosecuted for this. But prosecutors, just one last point, felt that whatever information they needed from him was important enough that they were willing to give him immunity.

HENDERSON: Right. And he's, of course, heard here, we'll play this tape from September 2016. Michael Cohen mentioning Weisselberg.


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


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

TRUMP: So what are we going to pay (INAUDIBLE) -- 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.

TRUMP: (INAUDIBLE) he gets hit by a truck (ph).

COHEN: Correct.


HENDERSON: And you imagine this doesn't land well with the president, who, of course, is worried about flippers. Weisselberg's someone the Trump family has known for decades.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. And I think a lot of people wondered why the president seems too worked up about this idea of flipping. Earlier this week in that Fox interview, he spent so much time talking about how unfair it was, how much experience he'd had with it 30 and 40 years ago. Now we know two people close to him have essentially flipped. We don't exactly know why. You know, what this is all kind of leading up to. But clearly the president, who had drawn a sort of bright line around his businesses --

HENDERSON: That's right.

PHILLIP: Is now seeing that being the center of something that could be a Pandora's Box for him. And I think Paul made a really important point about Trump. Allen Weisselberg is currently in a position in the Trump Organization. He's the person in charge when Trump stepped away from his businesses and became president, he put his sons and Allen in charge of his businesses.

So now the question is, what happens now? How does this upend Trump world, an organization that is currently still, you know, chugging along without the president? I think it really raises a lot of questions going forward about the future for Allen in that organization.

HENDERSON: Right. And the president famously -- I mean you talked about this red line and what he would do, President Trump saying that this would be a red line. Here he is talking to "The New York Times."


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If Mueller was looking at your finances, your family's finances unrelated to Russia, is that a red line?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Would that be a breach of what his actual charge is?



HENDERSON: But, Carl, it isn't up to the president to draw red lines with these investigations.

CARL HULSE, CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Yes, I said earlier, we've seen this movie before, and it's the untouchables because the feds always want to get the bookkeeper, right? That's where the person who really knows where the money has gone. And I think that this is all part of the president's agitation this week and his pushing on Jeff Sessions. You know, he knows the extent of the knowledge that the CFO of his organization has.

But I do think that this is, you know, if they're really dipping into the business side, there's always been a nervousness among the Trump family and the insiders that there were things that they knew were there and that they should be off limits. They're obviously not off limits.

I do think the big question here is, going forward, what is the venue for this to play out? Is this the venue? Is there more legal cases coming? I think it also elevates the midterms because if you want to, as you said, get these people before Congress, there's really only one way that's going to happen is if the Democrats have the House or even the Senate.

HENDERSON: Yes, and you've seen some interest from folks on The Hill with getting some of those folks back there, for instance, Cohen. You imagine they have interest in Weisselberg as well.

[12:10:07] ELIANA JOHNSON, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, "POLITICO": Yes, Michael Cohen, who's testified before Congress but behind closed doors once, lots of interest in having him come back again now that this case has unfolded.

But I think the question to me is, how does Robert Mueller use any of the evidence and information that's come forth, if he does at all, and what are the relationships between these two probes that are unfolding on parallel tracks? And as a result, you know, how does that really impact the president? Does Robert Mueller include some of this information that's coming out in the Southern District probe in a report to Congress, the campaign finance violations, or does he segment it off, which he seemed to be doing when he referred the prosecution to the Southern District? That's all an open question I think right now, but I think that's what the president really should be worried about in terms of how this really impacts him.

HENDERSON: And, Shimon, could you weigh in on that? I mean Mueller, as you said, famously kind of shipped stuff off to the SDNY.


HENDERSON: How might all of this be working together?

PROKUPECZ: So from everything that we know is, I think the Department of Justice and people at the SDNY that are prosecuting this understand that they cannot indict the president, right? So that's probably why also we haven't seen a cooperation agreement that was given to Michael Cohen because, in essence, the big fish here would be the president, right?


PROKUPECZ: If you look at all this and it's clear the government feels that there were some serious criminal violations and how the hush money was handled.

In terms of Robert Mueller, whether or not he can take this, I think it's been pretty clear that he's not joining any part of this investigation. What remains to be seen is whether or not Michael Cohen, if eventually Michael Cohen does wind up meeting with those investigators, now that he's pleaded guilty and he's getting a sentence, investigators there could feel essentially it's easy now to talk to him if he's willing to talk to them, and they don't have to give him anything. It's like a free for all. It's like, he'll just go in, he'll talk to them. They don't have to give him anything. It doesn't hurt his credibility because no one can later on argue, well, you got a deal for your cooperation.

And really I think the end -- in the end, where all this has to wind up, because it seems to me, at least with this now, the federal government, the FBI and the Department of Justice is done with this part. It's now up to really the members of Congress, which can have access to all this information from the Department of Justice and the FBI so that if they do decide to speak to Michael Cohen and the CFO and others who were involved in this, they should be able to without anyone really feeling that they're going to be prosecuted for anything. And all this information will likely be made available to members of Congress if they want it.

HENDERSON: And eventually maybe the public.

Who Weisselberg is, incredibly important to the Trump family, as you said. And he's cooperated with the feds. He's handled Trump Organization finances, prepared Trump's tax returns, managed Trump's private trust, as you said, Abby, treasurer of Trump's charity, and he's also a Miss Universe Pageant board member.

PHILLIP: I mean this is the person who knows pretty much everything there is to know about the financial part of Donald Trump's life. But even also the private part of Donald Trump's life.


PHILLIP: Because there is a nexus between those two things. The fact that we're talking about hush money payments, that's about alleged affairs that the president had. So there's a -- there's a big universe of things that he could know. And I -- and I also think that -- you brought up tax returns. We haven't seen the president's tax returns. That remains one of the things that the president has held so closely. It just reveals -- I think Weisselberg holds the key to a lot of that, but I think this breaking up of Trump's inner sanctum is what this all signifies. He's losing allies. He's losing the people who have historically protected him from a lot of people reaching into his private life and his financial life with inquiries about all of these things that he's been trying to hold back for many years now since he's been running.

HENDERSON: Big, big (INAUDIBLE) the president.

HULSE: Trump had some key employees that he treated like family.


HULSE: That knew everything. And this is one of them. There's a couple others. And there's no one really who has more potentially damaging information.

HENDERSON: Than Weisselberg. Yes, we'll have to leave it there.

Coming up, we'll have an update on the health of Senator John McCain. Stay with us.


[12:18:23] HENDERSON: A somber update now on ailing Senator John McCain. McCain's family has released a statement saying he's chosen to discontinue medical treatment for his cancer. A sign that he could be entering his final days. McCain was diagnosed last summer with an aggressive form of brain cancer, and he has spent much of the last year seeking treatment in Arizona.

CNN's Sunlen Serfaty joins me live.

Sunlen, walk me through what we know right now about John McCain.

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Senator McCain, Nia, has been receiving treatment for brain cancer since last July. So certainly this is a very grim health update from his family coming today that he is indeed and he's chosen himself to discontinue medical treatment for that cancer. And notable that in a statement his family gave just an hour or so ago in announcing this decision, they give a nod in essence to the battle that he's waged over the past year, battling this aggressive form of cancer. They say that in the last year John has surpassed expectations for his survival, but they say the progress of disease and the inexorable advance of age render their verdict. With his usual strength of will, he has now chosen to discontinue medical treatment.

Senator McCain has not been up here on Capitol Hill for quite some time. He was last seen up here in December. And he, of course, has, at times, chimed in from the sidelines, from at home in Arizona, where he has been received this treatment. He occasionally tweets out statements. His office, of course, sends out statements, even though he's unable to physically get back here to the halls of Congress to cast his votes.

[12:20:00] And, of course, we have heard an outpouring of love and support from his colleagues up here on Capitol Hill. Bipartisan support from Senator Schumer, from Mitch McConnell, from the speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, of course sending their love and support during this very hard time. Of course speaking to how beloved he is up here on Capitol Hill.


HENDERSON: Thank you so much, Sunlen, for that really sad update.

And we're seeing a lot of reaction online to the news from the McCain family. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell tweets he's very sad to hear this morning's update from the family of our dear friend Senator John McCain. We're so fortunate to call him our friend and colleague. John, Cindy, and the entire McCain family are in our prayers at this incredibly difficult hour.

Moments after the family released their statement, John McCain's wife shared this on Twitter. I love my husband with all of my heart. God bless everyone who has cared for my husband along this journey.

And Senator McCain's daughter, Meghan McCain, shares this poignant tweet about her father. My family is deeply appreciative of all of the love and generosity you've shown us during this past year. Thank you for all of your continued support and prayers. We could not have made it this far without you. You've given us strength to carry on.

Joining me with their insights and their reporting and their thoughts about John McCain, we've got chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta, "INSIDE POLITICS" own John King, and CNN's Maeve Reston.

John, I'm going to start with you.

A sad day for the McCain family and really for the country.

JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR, "INSIDE POLITICS": Nia, I never thought I'd speak this sentence, John McCain is giving up the fight. But that is what he's doing today. And Dr. Gupta can get into the medical reasons. In the family's statement they talk about how he has fought this. He's had several seizures along the way, including a very bad one last Friday, I'm told. And they've just decided, he has decided with their consultation, that it is time to stop trying to fight it with medical treatment.

That is a big deal if you know the life and the history of John McCain. He's an American hero. He's been a Republican politician through several iterations of the Republican Party. Through all of that, he has been a fighter and a survivor.

If you go back and look at how he was tortured and imprisoned in Vietnam. If you look at his crustiness, and I say that as a high compliment, as a challenger to George Bush in the 2000 Republican primaries, running for president himself in 2008, as a voice before he was sidelined by this horrible disease against this president often at times. A very dysfunctional relationship -- that's being polite -- with President Trump.

So the arc of John McCain's life, whether you're looking at his military service, his political service, his own admission later in life that he's far from a perfect person and how he's learned from his mistakes, whether it's the Keating Five, whether it's things he did in politics, positions that he took. A remarkable American life.

And, sadly, we are losing a hero like this. Not just in military service. People who have such a depth and breadth of American history in their blood, in politics. We don't have enough of that these days.

HENDERSON: And, Sanjay, this is a tough, tough illness. And the treatment is also quite tough on the body.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and that's basically it. I mean I think every step of the way, from the time of diagnosis, through the treatment, there's a constant sort of evaluation going on, Nia, you know, the risks and benefits. And this particular tumor, called a Glioblastoma, or GBM, is a -- it's an aggressive brain cancer. It's a type of cancer that starts in the brain as opposed to starting somewhere else in the body and spreading to the brain.

And this -- since I've started my -- you know, been practicing neurosurgery 25 years now, since I started my training, we haven't made a lot of progress in terms of actually improving survival there. There's some potential promise out there, but Senator McCain had an operation last summer, last July. He's been undergoing treatment.

And as John King sort of mentioned, it's sometimes been tough on his body. He has, you know, been hospitalized for the side effects of this therapy at various points. And so the risk-benefit analysis continues. At this point, they decided that the risks no longer, you know, outweighed the benefits. So it's tough, you know. And it's tough for the family and the -- obviously John McCain and his doctors to all sort of arrive at this decision, but it sounds like that's where they are now.

HENDERSON: Yes, and, Maeve, you covered him in 2008, traveling on the Straight Talk Express. Talk about that campaign, McCain, back in 2008.

MAEVE RESTON, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: Well, you know, I think it's such an important part of this discussion that we should not overlook that, you know, part of John McCain's legacy is just an entirely different era of politics. Not just in the way that he interacted with the press, but also, you know, being remembered for his civility and his humor certainly.

He -- I was covering him back in a cold winter in 2007 when there were just three reporters with him on the bus and he would talk for hours and hours, literally sometimes like ten hours a day where -- telling funny stories. You wanted to go write your story. You wanted him to stop telling his same jokes.

[12:25:05] But he loved having this band of brothers around him. He would tell stories about, you know, doing shots with Hillary Clinton and, you know, stories about his past. And he would make fun of Lindsey Graham, who would ride the bus with him, remembering, you know, how he fell asleep in a meeting for taking too much -- too many sleeping pills on the plane before landing on a flight abroad.

And, you know, he also, during the campaign, just in contrast with Donald Trump, I remember this one moment, I think we were in Pennsylvania, where a woman stood up and said she was afraid of President Obama being president and said he was an Arab. And John McCain took the microphone away from her, sternly corrected her, and said, no, ma'am, President Obama is a decent man. I admire him. You know, he said he thought he would make a much better president.

But it was just such a different level of bipartisanship and respect for others in power. And I know that a lot of his friends and allies are talking about a lot of those stories today, Nia.

HENDERSON: And certainly, Maeve, something we don't see very often now in this town.

John, I'm going to go to you on this. I want to play a little bit of your interview that you had with Senator McCain in 2008.


KING: Why do you think you still, after all this time, have to convince these people, I have been with you from the beginning?

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I don't know. Maybe I haven't done a good enough job. We're trying to. And we're trying to show them that I am a conservative in every way. I'm a proud conservative. But I'm not embarrassed at all about the fact that I have reached across the aisle to try to get things done for them in Washington while preserving those conservative principles.


HENDERSON: John, part of being --

KING: To think of that --

HENDERSON: Yes, go ahead, John.

KING: Think of that in the context of 2008, then close your eyes and fast forward ten years to where we are today. John McCain was considered not a reliable conservative because, as Maeve noted, he thought Hillary Clinton was a show boat, a first lady who wanted to just run for president, was stopping by the Senate to punch a ticket. Then he realized, she's doing the work. I respect her. She travels with me to Iraq and Afghanistan. She's trying. He was willing to reach across the aisle because he wanted to solve problems.

He opposed the George W. Bush tax cut in 2000 because he said it was too big, a fiscal conservative couldn't support it because the deficit was too big. And, yes, yes, he believed and he ended up working with Senator Ted Kennedy, President George W. Bush, and himself and others on McCain/Kennedy/Bush, which was citizenship, a path to citizenship for the undocumented. He wanted to solve problems and get things done and he was willing to compromise to do that. And for that, for that he was the nominee of his party in 2008.

But for that, he became a pariah in today's Republican Party because he respected his opposition and because he wanted to get things done. That tells us -- it's a terrible -- it's a terrible statement about today's politics.

RESTON: And how he had to swerve back in his, you know, his re- election campaign in Arizona, for example, you know, had to take a much harder line on immigration.

HENDERSON: (INAUDIBLE) to the right. Yes.

RESTON: Yes, and film ads, you know, down at the border underscoring over and over again that he wanted to be tough on immigration and, you know, had a couple of tough fights there.

HENDERSON: Yes, build the dang fence. I remember that.

KING: The Republican -- both the candidates -- one of the Republican candidates for Senate in his home state as a white nationalist on her bus tour because she says she wants to help her get attention on the media campaign trail. We know a lot of the things this president has done. If John McCain were not on the sidelines right now, were not sidelined by this horrible disease, we would have a different debate in our country. I'm not saying it would change, but we would have a -- we would have a very loud, passionate voice that we have missed for quite some time now.

HENDERSON: Thank you, John, Maeve, and Sanjay for those insights.

RESTON: Thanks, Nia.

GUPTA: Thank you.


We'll be right back.