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Trump's Attorney Urges People to Go Out and Vote for Democrats; Trump Is Concentrating on Attacking the Press and Immigrants to Close Out the Midterm Campaign; Russian National Charged with Interfering in Midterm Election. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired October 19, 2018 - 14:00   ET


[14:00:00] ANA CABRERA, CNN HOST: Hello and thank you for joining me. I'm Ana Cabrera in for Brooke Baldwin this Friday. We begin with major developments, involving two former close associates of President Trump. In federal court right now, former campaign chairman Paul Manafort goes before a judge this hour to find out when he'll be sentenced. More on that in just a moment. But first, Trump's former personal attorney Michael Cohen speaking out to CNN just moments ago where he continued to distance himself from the President and urged voters to send Trump a message in November. CNN's M.J. Lee caught up with him moments ago. What all did Cohen have to say?

M.J. LEE, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We did just catch up with Michael Cohen outside his Manhattan home. And this was a short interview but it was very clear that he had something to say, and that is that he wants the American people to vote Donald Trump out of the White House.


LEE: A couple things I'd like to ask you. How are you doing?


LEE: Your lawyers said you're now a Democrat. What made you do that?

COHEN: I was a Democrat my entire life. I switched because of the request from the RNC, couldn't be the vice chair of the RNC and be a Democrat.

LEE: And you tweeted over the weekend that the upcoming elections will be the most important in our lifetime. You said people should get out and vote. What did you mean?

COHEN: Listen, here's my recommendation. Grab your family, grab your friends, grab your neighbors. Get to the years and get to the polls because if not you'll have another two to six years of this craziness.

LEE: You had a meeting with investigators yesterday. Anything about that?


LEE: This interview was remarkable for a couple of reasons. Michael Cohen has not done an on-camera interview in a very long time, especially because he has been in so much legal trouble, he has not done on-the-record interviews and has not been defending himself. Now the fact that he is willing and eager to go on camera to deliver this message about Donald Trump is pretty fascinating. That's also in addition to other things that we have reported about this evolution of Michael Cohen, right, that last week his lawyer said he changed his party registration from Republican back to Democrat, that he is willing to now campaign against Donald Trump if Democrats are wanting him to do that. The fact that we've seen this go full circle, Michael Cohen, Donald Trump's fixer, the guy who would defend him at all costs now saying everyone should get out and vote against the President.

CABRERA: Such a fascinating conversation. M.J., stand by. We also want to discuss what's happening right now in a federal courtroom. Paul Manafort is in court discussing a possible sentencing date with a judge over his conviction on fraud charges. Let's go inside the courthouse. Kara, we're hearing Manafort just appeared in a wheelchair? How did they explain that?

KARA SCANNELL, CNN REPORTER: That's right, Ana. It was a surprise that silenced the courtroom when Manafort entered into the courtroom in a wheelchair wearing a green jumpsuit that had Alexandria inmate written across the back. It turns out that Manafort according to a person familiar with his medical condition has some sort of inflammation in his right foot. It was bandaged in a sock, slightly elevated while he was in his wheelchair and it relates to his diet. It's one issue that his lawyer raised saying he hoped the judge would sentence Manafort as soon as possible. If he gets transferred into a federal prison and better nutrition. That was the big surprise of the day. The judge agreed to sentence Manafort but not until February 8th. We have several months before Manafort will be sentenced. He is cooperating with the special counsel's office. CNN reporting he's been in there nine times in the past month. Prosecutors were asked if they knew when Manafort would finish this corroboration. They said they did not have a date where they could pinpoint that he would end that. But, Yes, the big surprise of the day was seeing Manafort confined to a wheelchair with his foot elevated, which has to relate to some of his nutritional I guess deficiencies, Ana.

CABRERA: Thank you for that update. Joining us to discuss these updates, Elie and M.J. Manafort showed up in a wheelchair. Apparently, there's some medical condition. Do you think that is going to be a factor in his sentencing?

[14:05:00] ELIE HONIG, Special Counsel, White Collar Criminal Defense: Prison is a brutal place. When it comes to sentencing, everything's on the table. If I'm his lawyer, I'd try to make a pitch to the judge he's really suffering, if it's legitimate, which I assume it is. He's 69, 70 years old. It could be part of a sentencing play.

CABRERA: We're learning that Manafort has met with Mueller's team for nine separate meetings. Does that seem like a lot to you?

HONIG: No, it's appropriate for a major cooperator. That tells me Mueller is very interested in Manafort and he's giving him very valuable information. You don't spend nine hours and 50 hours with someone unless they have important information and unless you find it credible and believable. Essentially prosecutors are sitting there saying tell us everything you know, every crime you participated in, who else is involved, are there other record backing it up? And the prosecutor goes back to his office with 20 pages of notes and says now I have to refine this, what am I going to focus on, ultimately what am I going to turn into a criminal charge. I think it's unlikely they'd spend this much time with Manafort if they weren't considering criminal charges.

CABRERA: We just learned the sentencing date is set for February 8. Does that mean that now they have an actual sentencing date that they have gotten all the think they need out of Manafort?

HONIG: Prosecutors want to push off the date because you want that leverage, that incentive hanging over the cooperator. A lot of times we would set a sentencing date and adjourn it and adjourn it and adjourn it. This judge seems like he wants to get it done. They still have five months I think that is a lot of time to get done what they need to get done. I do think they have big plans for him.

CABRERA: M.J., Cohen is a man doing a lot of talking. He also has been meeting with Mueller investigators for hours in the last several weeks and months perhaps since he was initially given that plea deal in August on other charges. This is a guy doing a lot of talking without a cooperation agreement.

LEE: That's right. He's been very busy. When he pleaded guilty in august, there was no cooperation deal. He pleaded guilty and I think it's important to keep in mind what his primary motivation is. His sentencing is going to be in December and from now until then, he's going to try to fight to do anything possible to try to get some leniency. He has been meeting with investigators at Special Counsel Robert Mueller's office, at the A.G.'s office, FDNY. What is he actually saying? These are investigators who are interested in a lot of different aspects of Donald Trump's life and past work life, including the Trump organization, the Trump Foundation, possible tax schemes he and his family might have been involved in. You can imagine Michael Cohen would walk into any of these rooms and say I i am the guy who knows him, his legal background and anything that might be in his closet better than anybody else, you should talk to me because I can help you.

CABRERA: Did he have anything to say about Mueller when you talked to him?

LEE: He did not. As he was quickly walking away back into his house, I tried to ask him about some of has to meetings he's been having with investigators and he walked back inside. We didn't expect he would wade into that because this is so sensitive. He did not comment.

CABRERA: Elie, he's not talking about the investigation but he's making political statements against Trump. Does that make him a less credible witness?

HONIG: It does. I don't like this whole political thing he's on. The best cooperating witnesses are the ones who don't have any ax to grind. You never want your cooperator to be accused if you have a personal or political gripe with this person. I don't think this political thing is a particularly helpful look for him or for the prosecution. By the way, he can't vote himself because he's now a convicted felon.

CABRERA: And if prosecutors are feeling this way you can imagine the average public person is saying can I really trust this guy who now says he's against Donald Trump when for so many years he was so loyal to the President and was the guy defending him in every turn, saying very flattering things, calling him the smartest, most talented person. And now suddenly your views on him have changed?

[14:10:00] In many ways that plays right into Trump's hands. Thank you very much, both of you.

New details on how Turkish intel agents trailed the Saudi hit squad. We have the latest on the investigation just ahead. And the President is touting his closing argument for his party ahead of the midterms, praising attacks on the press and even threatening to send the military to the southern border. Will this messaging pay off at the polls? We'll discuss.


CABRERA: As thousands of Honduran immigrants' journey closer to the United States, President Trump is reigniting his demands for a stronger border. He sent Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to Mexico City. He meets with President Pena Nieto next hour.

Meantime at a rally in Montana last night the president made it clear that immigration will be one of his biggest attack lines in his final push for the midterms.


DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT: As you know, I'm willing to send the military to defend our southern border if necessary. All caused because of the illegal immigration onslaught brought by the Democrats because they refuse to acknowledge or to change the laws. They like it. They also figure everybody coming in is going to vote Democrat.


CABRERA: Meantime as the White House faces pressure to find out what happened to Khashoggi, the President praised a congressman who assaulted a reporter during his campaign for a House seat in Montana. Listen to this.


TRUMP: But Greg is smart. And by the way never wrestle him. You understand that? Never. Any guy who can do a body slam is my guy.


CABRERA: Joining us, Julie, a White House correspondent for the New York Times. Montana yesterday, Arizona tonight, Nevada tomorrow. President Trump is on the move. Can his closing argument help Republicans save the house?

JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think he's certainly going to do as much as he can to try to make that happen. What we're seeing now is the same Donald Trump that you saw | the campaign trail in 2016, the same Donald Trump who we've seen at rallies throughout this year, but he's really stepping up the pace of them now. And clearly enjoying being able to be himself, being able to talk tough about things like body slamming a reporter, things like cracking down on illegal immigration at the border. I think to some degree Republicans need for him to be doing this. They need for him to be activating the conservative base, they need to be activating the, you know, sort of Trump coalition that came out to elect him if they have any hope of holding on to the senate and the house. What's not as clear is whether the backlash from some of this kind of rhetoric in some of these places might swamp whatever advantage the Republicans are getting from it. We know that this kind of message doesn't really resonate with a lot of the voters that Republicans who are trying to hold on to competitive districts need to turn out, you know, women, college-educated white voters, younger voters, certainly voters of color are not going to respond well to this and might be even more motivated to turn out for Democrats if the President is making this case. But I think Republicans really have no choice looking at the map other than trying to use the President and the President is enthusiastically pushing that line.

CABRERA: As we point out, these rallies have been more than just a ticking through of his successes. We've seen the President return to the issues that drove candidate Trump in 2016, immigration, and attacking the media.

DAVIS: Absolutely. These are lines that worked for him then and that his base really loves. It's interesting when you look at these rallies how little, for instance, he talks [00:20:00] about the tax cuts. That's sort of the signature legislative achievement he's been able to put in place through his two years in office. We hear very little about that. We hear a lot about how good the economy is. I think with an eye toward really trying to reawaken that spirit of fighting back and trying to retake the country that's a little harder to do now that the Republicans are in control of the White House, the house and the senate. So I think he's trying to push those wedge issues in a way that he thinks can be helpful to turning out Republicans.

CABRERA: The President likes to attack, that's part of his M.O., part of his brand, but were you surprised he was actually praising physical assault?

[14:20:00] DAVIS: Yes, well, you know, he does like to talk tough and all of his rallies all feature a pretty sizable section of booing and jeering at the press. You know, his crowds often will chant, you know, derisive chants at the press. We haven't seen since the campaign him seeming to egg on violence. When he was running for President, he talked about getting rid of the guys who were protesting in the back of one of his speeches. That came pretty close to seeming to exhort people on to take violent action. He clearly was praising this member of Congress who did that to a journalist. At the very least it's unfortunate timing given all the attention that's now being paid rightly to the murder -- the apparent murder of Jamal Khashoggi.

CABRERA: I want to turn to the Democratic message right now. In recent days a lot of Democrats have been tempering their calls for the President to be impeached. But last night Presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke said this --


BETO O'ROURKE (D), CANDIDATE FOR TEXAS SENATOR: I would liken impeachment to an indictment. There is enough there to proceed with a trial for a full vetting of the facts and to make the best informed decision in the interest of this country and our future. As you know, under the constitution as a member of the senate, it's a far different bar.


CABRERA: Julie, were you surprised to hear him say that? And does that actually maybe work to the President's advantage in some way?

DAVIS: Well, he certainly is somewhat unique in that you don't hear Democratic candidates really campaigning on this and in fact they go generally to great lengths to avoid talking about it. They don't want to be pigeon holed as the party that just wants to take down the President at all costs.

CABRERA: Especially in a place like Texas, right?

DAVIS: Exactly. But you have to look at what O'Rourke needs to do to win. If you look at the polls, it's an uphill slog for him. But what he does need to do is signal to this groundswell of grass roots supporters that he's going to be at least willing to go there and consider that because there is such antipathy among a lot of his voters and the Democratic base for the President. I haven't talked to anyone in his campaign but my guess is that he's made the calculation here that to rule something like that out when he has a chance to really intensify Democratic turnout and what he will need to be even close to defeating his Republican rival Ted Cruz, he's going to have to signal he's at least open to those things. We've seen him be successful really appealing to the progressive base. They don't want to hear that's off the table. He's approached this in a different way than most Democrats have I think for that reason.

CABRERA: Julie, thank you. Good to see you. We have new details on how Turkish officials tried to stop a suspected Saudi hit squad they believed killed Jamal Khashoggi, even dressing up as airline workers to inspect the plane they were traveling in. We'll ask a personal friend of Khashoggi why Jamal feared for his life.


CABRERA: We are now learning a Russian national is facing charges of interfering in the U.S. political system, including the upcoming midterm election. Let's get to Laura Jarrett with more details. What can you tell us, Laura?

LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: It's information warfare. That's what the U.S. Justice Department is charging against a 44-year- old woman in Russia who has been charged with conspiracy against the United States, including political interference for the upcoming November 2018 elections. Now, it basically tracks what we've seen before from the special counsel's office, even though this is coming out of the eastern district of Virginia. It all has to do with the same type of creating fake media accounts in particular and trying to disrupt and sow discord, particularly on issues that affect minority communities. I want to read a little bit from the complaint and how it was described. It says beginning around December 2016 and May 2018, members of the conspiracy used social media and other internet platforms to inflame passions on a wide variety of topics including immigration, gun control and the second amendment, the confederate flag, race relations, LGBT issues, the NFL national anthem debate. You see all the hot-button issues being discussed now.

[14:30:00] This women she is Elena Alekseevna Khusyaynova, a 44-year- old Russian national. She is not here. We will not see her in court today, Ana, out there in the eastern district of Virginia, but she served as the chief accountant of a project called Project Lakhta that was funded by Concord Management, that same Russian firm indicted by the special counsel's office earlier this year, Ana.

CABRERA: Laura Jarrett that is new information. Thank you for bringing that to us. I want to bring back Elie Honig who help us digest what we just learned.

HONIG: It's similar to the first group indictment that Mueller returned on the 12 Russians, who were accused of stealing identities and creating false accounts to harbor discord. And the connection to concord management makes it a concrete connection. There's now a play book for doing this. There's sort of an established way that people looking to interfere with the election can go about it. This is not hacking, that's separate. This is utilizing social media and fake accounts to sow discord. This I think the first time we've seen this relating to the upcoming midterms. The prior related to the 2016 Presidential elections.