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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER
ABC: Trump's Ex-Lawyer Met With Mueller Team for Hours. Aired 4:30-5p ET
Aired September 20, 2018 - 16:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[16:31:20] JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: We're following some more breaking news.
President Trump's former personal attorney Michael Cohen has been interviewed multiple times by special counsel Robert Mueller's team over the past few weeks, according to ABC News. The interviews have lasted for hours and been focused on Trump's dealings with Russia and any possible conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Moscow.
David Urban, a former Trump campaign head in Pennsylvania, I know you don't know of anything and you don't think anything happened, but your response? I mean, this is not good news for the president.
DAVID URBAN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It's not surprising. I mean, that's why he got a plea deal, right? Part of the plea deal is you come tell us everything you know, and the Mueller team is particularly interested obviously in Russia and all things Russia, and so, you know, I don't find anything completely surprising here at all that they want to talk about real estate dealings, any dealings the president may have had before he became president in Russia, so not surprising at all.
SYMONE SANDERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I seem to remember that Michael Cohen's deal was with the Southern District attorney of New York, not Robert Mueller, so he's voluntarily going perhaps because Michael Cohen is a little bit scorned, don't want to be on the other side of that. But also because he clearly feels he has something to contribute to the investigation.
So we don't know what else the special counsel knows. We don't know the intricate details of what Michael Cohen told the special counsel, but I can say I think it's damning and if I were Donald Trump, I'd be extremely concerned that my go-to fixer attorney is now singing like a canary to the special counsel.
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it's funny to see how he went from being the president's attack dog to attack the president. You say it's not surprising. It actually is pretty surprise. This is someone who went to bat for Donald Trump multiple times, would have done anything for him, had this incredibly loyal feeling for him.
URBAN: Clearly he had an epiphany. COLLINS: Not on his own choice.
TAPPER: He pleaded guilty to eight counts, including two campaign finance violations having to do with hush money payment to Stormy Daniels and "Playboy" Playmate of the Year, Karen McDougal. A lot of people were pooh-poohing them, saying it's just campaign finance, not that big a deal. Apparently, a big deal.
COLLINS: And Michael Cohen knows a lot and he handled a lot of things for the president. He handled the things you don't want to come to light, or the president. It wasn't like he was handling everything above ground. You don't have a fixer to do, you have like a lawyer, or a banker, whoever.
But I think concern is it's not just Michael Cohen. There are so many people it seems to be pretty much everyone in the president's orbit, Paul Manafort agreeing to cooperate with the Justice Department and presumably Robert Mueller as well.
TAPPER: One of the other things that's interesting about this, of course, is that as was noted by Symone, Michael Cohen felt scorned. President Trump was not loyal back to him during this investigation, he felt.
AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, I think the fact that Michael Cohen is speaking so freely strikes so deeper into the heart of Trump universe, not only Trump universe as a business enterprise but the Trump family. ABC News is reporting that Michael Cohen is also speaking to New York investigators who are looking into the Trump charity so he has deep knowledge of how the Trump family works, and we know how deeply Trump cares about that, and I think that's why he may be exceptionally concerned at this moment.
URBAN: He's a black box. Nobody knows what's in there.
TAPPER: Nobody knows.
Let's turn to this claim by the president's attorney, Jay Sekulow, that NBC News, when President Trump sat for that Lester Holt, falsely edited the president's comments that Russia was on his mind when he fired FBI Director Comey. Here is what President Trump said to Lester Holt.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I was going to fire Comey, knowing there was no good time to do it.
[16:35:02] And, in fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: And here is President Trump's attorney Jay Sekulow claiming that not everything is 100 percent when it comes to this interview. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAY SEKULOW, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S ATTORNEY: You know that when there are interviews, there are edits, and there's a longer transcript. And I will just tell you without disclosing any detail that when you review the entire transcript, it's very clear as to what happened.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SANDERS: If this -- is this how Jay Sekulow wanted to end his career as a good lawyer? Look, I have to law of because where was this defense a year ago? Where was this defense a year ago? This is clearly something that Donald Trump himself drummed up in a back corner in -- tweeting from his bed early one morning.
CARPENTER: Yes, but the reason why --
URBAN: I think what happens here in this interview, Brian Stelter pointed out this morning on this network, is that the interview continues on, and the president says, and I know by doing so would lengthen this investigation.
TAPPER: By firing Comey, it might make this longer.
CARPENTER: Yes, and he did.
URBAN: And I think that when Sekulow was doing was throw a little dust up in the air --
TAPPER: Right, chum the waters.
URBAN: Chum the waters a little bit, right?
CARPENTER: He's specifically trying to throw dust on this issue because it gets to obstruction of justice which also Mueller is talking to Michael Cohen about because that's where he's going to really get hung up. Obstruction of justice is what they are worried about.
SANDERS: I just want to note, this isn't true. This is a claim that the president and his attorneys are making up and trotting his attorney out there to say on national television and it's not true.
URBAN: It's parsed.
TAPPER: Yes, I mean --
URBAN: I'm saying parsed.
TAPPER: Well, what Sekulow is saying later in the interview aired later in the interview. COLLINS: And it's not parsed. It's the president saying here's why I fired him and Jay Sekulow says, you know, here's what he said about this, yes, you can their from the president, this is why I fired him, the Russia investigation on my mind when I fired James Comey. You don't need to look anywhere else, it came from the president's mouth himself.
But we've seen this from not just Jay Sekulow and the president before, say things and then say he didn't say it. He's been doing it with the "Access Hollywood" tape which you can hear him on audio, the president with a very distinct voice making these comments which he later apologized for on camera and now he tells people, you know, actually, I've heard that wasn't my voice on that audio.
CARPENTER: But this is one of the Trump team's favorite tricks.
TAPPER: You write about in your book.
CARPENTER: Yes, but one of the specific tricks they use, they say evidence will be forthcoming to prove me to be right. It never comes.
TAPPER: It never comes.
CARPENTER: And this is just another reiteration of that.
TAPPER: But they did do this a lot. The president says something and his people around him are trying to figure out a way to make it true.
URBAN: Obviously this is, you know, the critical -- this is the nub of the entire case here, right?
TAPPER: The obstruction charge, yes.
URBAN: The president's mens rea when he fired Comey, right? He's got an Article 2 right to do it and what --
CARPENTER: Well, not without -- with corrupt intent.
URBAN: Yes, with corrupt intent. So, corrupt intent is going to be incredibly difficult to prove, with the Lester Holt tape, no tape, with full tape. It's very difficult.
SANDERS: Well, I mean, I'm firing him because of the Russia investigation. That's pretty clear.
COLLINS: We have to point out that Rudy Giuliani has been arguing against a sit-down with Robert Mueller because they said they have heard the president's answers on why they fired James Comey. Now, they are trying to litigate why he fired James Comey. You can see why Robert Mueller would like to sit down with him and say, tell me --
URBAN: Because he wants to get was there corrupt intent? The president is going to say no.
TAPPER: Stick around, we're going to keep talking. President Trump called him a liar, he insulted his wife's looks, he suggested his father was involved in the Kennedy assassination. So, why is Senator Ted Cruz now calling on the Trumps for help? Stay with us.
[16:43:11] TAPPER: From Lyin' Ted to letting sleeping dogs lie, Senator Ted Cruz turning to President Trump and his children for help with fewer than 50 days until election day 2018. Despite their nasty past, Cruz is desperate to keep his Senate seat and the Trump is desperate to keep the state red.
Today, Cruz and first daughter Ivanka Trump toured the Johnson Space Center in Houston together, not an official campaign event, but Donald Trump Jr. and President Trump himself are expected to stump for Cruz.
Amanda, you once worked for Senator Cruz. I don't need to remind you of the litany of nasty things --
CARPENTER: Got it memorized, yes.
TAPPER: -- that Cruz and Trump said about each other, because Cruz said some nasty stuff too.
CARPENTER: One side was more deserved than the other.
TAPPER: And Cruz said some nasty stuff, too. What does this say? Can he not win without President Trump? Is it really that tight a race?
CARPENTER: Well, and, listen, the Republican Party base has changed a lot. The Tea Party base that propelled Ted Cruz to victory in 2012 is different now and it's Trump's base and I think it's important for Cruz to show that he has a united front with the president and that's -- all the troubles are put behind them.
TAPPER: A new Quinnipiac poll that finds Cruz is nine points ahead of Democratic Congressman Beto O'Rourke, Cruz among likely voters of Texas. Cruz is at 54 percent, O'Rourke is at 45 percent. Real Clear Politics does the average of all the polling data and shows Cruz up by 4.5 points.
Do you think this is real? Do you think Beto O'Rourke really -- I mean, I've been hearing this a long time how Texas is going to go blue.
SANDERS: Yes, Texas can go blue. I think Beto O'Rourke has a real chance, and I'll tell you why, because he's on the ground speaking directly to the people and they are running a great ground game. And there's -- I do believe there's going to be a surge of unlikely voters to vote in the midterm election. So, if Beto can turn those folks out in Texas and they check the box for him, the issue is that folks are not necessarily -- like a governor's race in Texas is not going to bring the people out.
This is the race among some other congressional races on the Democratic side. They're going to bring folks out so I think he has a chance.
TAPPER: The governor's race -- Governor Greg Abbott is very popularly popular in Texas.
SANDERS: He's extremely popular in Texas.
TAPPER: Very popular. Do you think Ted Cruz is actually in trouble here or is this just kind of like acting like he's in trouble just to make sure --
DAVID URBAN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Remember the peanuts?
TAPPER: We will see the football.
DAVID: The football right? It's the football. You keep hearing in Texas how Democrats are going to sweep in and take over and it never materialized. Look, I think Beto O'Rourke is a good candidate. I think he's better than most. I think he's -- he does inspire the base and they're going to get out but I don't think they're -- I think you'll see probably route this -- you know, these numbers six, seven points at the end.
SANDERS: I'd like to remind folks they Ted Cruz is currently out there saying all kinds of things, talking about Beto O'Rourke is going to ban barbecue from Texas.
AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: That was a joke.
SANDERS: That he's going to bring tofu.
CARPENTER: He does have a sense --
SANDERS: The GOP down there, the Republican Party has a poor picture of Beto as a young partisan, like they are desperate, OK. This is desperate.
TAPPER: They have been going after him a lot but I'm really interested in the Cruz-Trump relationship because remember Cruz didn't officially endorse Trump at the convention.
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT:
URBAN: I was there. I could tell you. I was at the convention on the floor.
COLLINS: It's always a good idea that -- it is so stunning that we've gone from that to now the President bringing his one of his favorite people in his life, his daughter, to come campaign for him. That is you know, just very telling to see how that relationship went from so poorly but we've also seen that with President Trump and Senator Lindsey Graham. They were shooting with each other. The President gave out his phone number at a rally, and now they've somehow fix that relationship and now we're seeing that here.
TAPPER: We've also seen this happen in Nevada. The President is going to leave any moment to go to a rally in Las Vegas for Republican Senator Dean Heller. The incumbent is facing a contentious race against Democratic Congresswoman Jacky Rosen to keep his seat. The New York Times reporting Heller praised Trump on a White House conference call calling him a great leader. Heller was no Trump fan in 2016. He actually said he disagrees with President Trump-like 99 percent of the time. Is this just what you have to do if you're a Republican to get reelected? You have to --
SANDERS: Look, I'm not a Republican but I mean, part of this is that clearly, the Republican Party doesn't know how to stand at the bullies.
URBAN: I got -- I got a car, we can register you.
SANDERS: Clearly the Republican Party does not know how to stand at the bullies. And maybe if they did we wouldn't be in the situation we are in right now. Look, I think this is very dangerous for Dean Heller. There are a lot of Independents in Nevada. Those Independents vote Jacky Rosen and many folks have been firing up the Democratic base there. Dean Heller is in trouble. He might lose his seat. I don't see how Donald Trump necessarily helps them in the state.
URBAN: Jake --
TAPPER: But let me just ask this because --
TAPPER: Hillary Clinton won Nevada. I mean like it has -- it's been close every time but it's a -- but it has gone Democratic. Is embracing Trump if you're Dean Heller the right thing to do?
URBAN: Listen, Nevada, like all states, right, the Republican Party as Amanda correctly points out it's a far different party that was six years ago. This is the part -- this president owns this party. And so Heller has got one chance. This is it. I mean, it may not be the best chance but that's his chance to win in Nevada.
TAPPER: As they say in -- as they say in Vegas, double down.
SANDERS: That's the hill he's going to die.
CARPENTER: These realms are powerful. I mean, if you can get people to turn out to a rally, stand in line and wait for hours, whatever, they're going to come out and vote in November.
SANDERS: That's not true. I work for Bernie Sanders. No, that is not true.
COLLINS: These rallies are less about the candidates and more about President Trump airing his grievances of the week. He may mention a line or two about whoever the candidate is but it's not often about them.
TAPPER: Yes, let's see what that is. I do want to get your guys response to what Senator Sheldon Whitehouse said earlier in the show about that accusation against Supreme Court Nominee Brett Kavanaugh. Whitehouse suggested something we've not heard before from Democrats about how they're going to when they if when and if they recapture the House or Senate investigate what Professor Ford was saying. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. SHELDON WHITEHOUSE (D), RHODE ISLAND: As soon as Democrats get gavels we're going to want to get to the bottom of this.
TAPPER: If the Democrats win back the House and or the Senate, Democrats will investigate what happened the charges of Professor Ford is laying out even if that means investigating a Supreme Court Justice at the time.
WHITEHOUSE: I am confident of that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: And he said he's going to investigate -- Democrats are going to investigate why in his view the FBI stood down on investigating what allegedly happened. Are you surprised by that?
SANDERS: I'm not surprised. I think what you hear Senator Whitehouse saying is if and when Democrats retake the House and maybe even the Senate, they're going to exercise the oversight that their Republican counterparts have not.
URBAN: Take you to the bank, Jake. It's going to happen and I think that's why a lot of Republicans on the Judiciary Committee think it's just -- it's -- this is a partisan effort here. They don't really want to hear Professor Ford if they did. They have an opportunity to do this. There's going to be an investigation no matter what happens.
TAPPER: An investigation into a potentially sitting Supreme Court Justice and to what he did in 1982. Does that surprise you?
CARPENTER: Yes, but I think it's going to send shockwaves through everybody that went to that school because a full investigation means they're going to run down in canvas everybody that went to a party in that neighborhood. And if you want to put fear in the hearts of all these lawyers in town, he just did it.
TAPPER: All right, everyone stick around. That feud inside the Trump administration that reportedly almost caused the head of FEMA to quit during a hurricane emergency. Stay with us.
[16:50:00] TAPPER: In our "NATIONAL LEAD," a huge distraction inside the Trump Administration when it should be focused on hurricane recovery in the Carolinas. The President's top two officials in charge of managing the response apparently cannot seem to get along according to the Washington Post.
Publicly Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and FEMA chief Brock Long put on a professional face but behind the scenes, the newspaper reports the feud is reportedly so bitter Brock Long wanted to quit this week. Let's bring in CNN's Joe Johns. Joe, the friction we're told is reaching a boiling point at a pretty critical time.
[16:55:05] JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: It does look like a tense situation, Jake. The current head of FEMA is under investigation watching his back. His boss, the Homeland Security Secretary watching every move raising questions whether Washington infighting could become a distraction for the people who were supposed to be fighting floods and saving lives.
BROCK LONG, ADMINISTRATOR, FEMA: This is a partnership and it takes anything from neighbor helping neighbor all the way to the federal government.
JOHNS: As the nation braced for Hurricane Florence, it seems the two officials in charge of federal response weren't pleased with their partnership. According to the Washington Post, FEMA chief Brock Long and his boss Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen are so at odds with each other that Long considered leaving just as the storm peak.
NICK MIROFF, REPORTER, WASHINGTON POST: FEMA officials who were close to long say that he thinks Secretary Nielsen is out to get him, that she is trying to push him out of his job.
JOHNS: Fueling the reported feud, an investigation involving Long's use of government vehicles opened by the DHS Inspector General.
LONG: Those vehicles are to supply me with secure comms. I would never intentionally violate any rules you know, that I was there aware of.
JOHNS: The Post reports Nielsen chided long for taking government vehicles on lengthy trips between D.C. and his home in North Carolina. Now, he could face criminal charges.
MIROFF: He's been blindsided by these charges. The idea that she would maybe either you know, keep this from him or allow this to go forward is what was particularly upsetting.
JOHNS: Nielsen and long had put on a united front for storm victims.
KIRSTJEN NIELSEN, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY, UNITED STATES: I feel confidence in all FEMA leadership.
JOHNS: But the Post reports the Secretary's visit to the region came as a surprise to FEMA despite regular calls between her and Long. This after reports that Nielson wanted him out prior to the storm.
LONG: I've never been asked to resign. Secretary Nielsen and I talk every day. We have a very professional functional relationship.
JOHNS: Long has been the face of the administration storm response since the summer of 2017, a well-regarded later through Hurricane Maria and beyond.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: A man who's really become very famous on television in the last couple of days, Mr. Long, we appreciate it very much.
JOHNS: And as hurricane season reaches its peak, the number two spot at FEMA is vacant. So what happens if Long leaves?
MIROFF: The number three ranking official, he is a close friend of Nielsen's. If long is to go down, then essentially a close friend of Kirstjen Nielsen's would take over at FEMA.
JOHNS: We reached out today to sources at Homeland Security, FEMA, and the Inspector General's Office, so far no comment from any of them. Jake?
TAPPER: All right, Joe Johns, thank you so much. Turning into our "POP CULTURE LEAD." When CNN's Anthony Bourdain died in June, he took with him his incredible sense of adventure and exploration. But before he left us, Bourdain took viewers around the world one more time starting with a trip to Kenya with a special guest Emmy award- winning host of CNN's "UNITED SHADES OF AMERICA" W. Kamau Bell.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: See an elephant?
W. KAMAU BELL, CNN HOST: Where?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right there.
BELL: Oh yes.
Even if you see them in the zoo closer, they're behind bars. It just doesn't feel connected. But I feel like we're right here.
BOURDAIN: Yes, he's actually going someplace.
BELL: He's not. He's just walking in a circle. He's actually got -- he's got stuff to do.
BOURDAIN: The fact of the matter is, these magnificent animals would most likely be gone without the intervention of man. People pay a lot of money to come see these animals. Without that money, the overwhelming likelihood is that they would have been wiped out long ago, particularly this one.
BOURDAIN: That's a --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's a rhino. That's a rhino.
(END VIDEO CLIP) TAPPER: Be sure to tune in this Sunday at 9 p.m. Eastern for the premiere of the CNN original series Anthony Bourdain's "PARTS UNKNOWN." You can follow me on Facebook and Twitter @JAKETAPPER, you can tweet the show @THELEADCNN. We actually read those tweets. Our coverage on CNN continues right now.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news, talking to Mueller. A major development in the Russia investigations. President Trump's former personal lawyer reportedly sitting for hours of interviews with Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team. Open to testifying.