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Russia Investigation Enters Explosive New Chapter; Michael Cohen Pleads Guilty to Misleading Congress about Trump's Moscow Plans; President in 'Terrible Mood' While Preparing for G20 in Argentina. Aired 9-10p ET

Aired November 29, 2018 - 21:00   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: The news continues right now, I want to hand it over to Chris for "CUOMO PRIME TIME." Chris.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you, Anderson, I am Chris Cuomo, and welcome to PRIME TIME.

Special Counsel Robert Mueller says he believes Michael Cohen's assertion that the President was lying to you, the American people, when he said he had no business dealings with Russia during his campaign. The big question is, did the President lie to Mueller in his answers about the same Russia deal?

And if so, are we seeing a pattern that may persuade Congress to act? I can confirm the President was asked about this Russia deal. But today he said something that blows the idea that he barely knew about this deal out of the water, and I'll point it out to you in a moment.

Tonight that's what we're doing. We're tying pieces together for you after talking to people on all sides of the story. The problem is, the closer you get to the President, the more the truth becomes a precious commodity. So my friends, let's get after it.

The Russia investigation has certainly entered an explosive and new chapter, and it's right up in the President's kitchen. There are even more bombshells dropping tonight, following Michael Cohen's second guilty plea.

As you know, the President's former lawyer and called his fixer, today tied the President to some of the highest levels of the Russian government. He says the President and he both lied about a proposed deal with the Russians. However, Michael Cohen did it to Congress. And all of this was done when the President was the presumptive nominee. It was about a Trump tower project in Moscow.

And now we're learning from another close associate of the President's, the man name Felix Sater that the 2016 project included offering Vladimir Putin a Penthouse in the Tower, reportedly worth $50 million. What does this all mean for the President? He said earlier he decided against the proposed deal, but he also defended it.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There would be nothing wrong if I did do it. I was running my business while I was campaigning. There was a good chance and I wouldn't have won, in which case I would have gotten back into the business. And why should I lose lots of opportunities.


CUOMO: Two impressive things there. One, did you hear that? The President says he didn't think he was going to win, that's why he was keeping his business interests going. And second, did you hear him say, I decided not to do it?

That puts him at odds with the suggestion from those around him on the legal team that he knew very little about this deal that he was focused on the campaign. That it was all Cohen running around doing his thing. He just said, I'm the one who decided not to do it.

We also hear from White House sources, the President is obviously in a terrible mood while preparing for the G20 in Argentina. He's "spooked and completely distracted." Does he fear we're about to learn what Russia has over him that explains his passiveness when it comes to Putin?

Let's bring Cuomo's Court in the session with former Federal Prosecutor, Berit Berger and former Trump White House Lawyer, Jim Schultz. It's good to have you both. Very important night.

Berit, when you look at this, legally/strategically, what do you see here with the latest plea from Cohen?

BERIT BERGER, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: This is an incredibly important guilty plea for the special council. So for Michael Cohen, the added charge is not necessarily that significant. He already pled guilty to eight different offenses this one doesn't add that much more time to his sentence. But this is why it's important for the special counsel's office.

This is not a charge that they farmed out to another U.S. Attorney's office. This is when they kept themselves, which means that they feel that this is right within the heart and the mandate of their investigation.

So I see, this is really a crescendo leading to something else. They would not have made Michael Cohen plea to this. They would not have signed him up to a cooperation agreement. If they didn't think that they could use him for something bigger.

CUOMO: I remember someone teaching me, Jim, when it comes to these kinds of deals, it is voice when it happens in re-voice. He used to say to me. If you get the deal after you make your offer, that is an unusually strong indication that the prosecutor sees value and credibility. And that's what happened here.

Cohen didn't get a deal, when he made that plea deal with the southern district. You know, he just pled guilty there. He didn't get a cooperation agreement. So he had to earn it, 70 hours we now understand, he sat with Mueller and his investigators, what kind of exposure concerns you?

JIM SCHULTZ, CNN LEGAL COMMENTATOR: We heard the same breathlessness when we heard about the Manafort plea deal.

CUOMO: Who's breathless?

SCHULTZ: You've been breathless from the left.

CUOMO: Who's breathless?

SCHULTZ: You've been breathless, you -- the folks on this network have been breathless.

CUOMO: I'm the picture of poise, my brother. He came out and said, he made it clear, that the President wasn't telling the American people the truth when he said he had no dealings with Russia during the campaign.

[21:04:58] SCHULTZ: So, in this case, I think we have the same thing, right? The sky is falling all of a sudden because there's another plea deal. I think we have to wait and see how it plays out. But I also think that, you know, I don't believe that Michael Cohen, what he says is gospel, and I don't believe anybody can credibly think that either.

You say that Mueller, well, he's a very important witness. Well, so was Manafort a very important witness. And we saw what happened to that last week, so who knows how this is going to play out in terms of the credibility of Michael Cohen.

CUOMO: Two things Berit. First is that the reason Mueller believes Cohen isn't just that he feels it, right? It's because they have proof of communications that extended beyond the date that Cohen originally gave. The original narrative was upset by proof. That's why Mueller believes him.

It's not a personality contest. And the second thing is, why is it never enough for those who support the President to point out lying. Why isn't a pattern of lying to the American people about things that matter in moments that matter, not impressive, doesn't mean it's illegal. But we're talking about political judgment here, and political consequences. Can't lying add it up in a pattern that we're starting to see here matter?

BERGER: Right, like you said, lying, obviously lying to Congress is a crime, lying to investigators is a crime, lying to the people is not necessarily a crime, but that doesn't make it ethical. I think that Mueller's team did exactly what you said. You know, they're not going to take Cohen's word for it.

You know, the same statement you trust, verify, it's exactly what they're going to do. They have documents, they have financial records, they have other witnesses that they've talked to, that they've put into a grand jury. This is how they verify what a corroborating witness is saying. So look, I agree, I don't think they should take what Cohen is saying

as gospel. I don't think any good prosecutor should ever just look at their cooperating witness and say, sure, tell me it, you know, just because they sign a cooperation agreement doesn't mean they've taken a truth serum. But what you can do is verify what they say and that's exactly the special counsel's team is doing.

SCHULTZ: Look, this seems just sideways.

CUOMO: Go ahead, Jim.

SCHULTZ: These things go sideways very quickly. And we saw it with Manafort. Very important witness, that he was cooperating. They wanted his cooperation. And now all of a sudden they don't. Because --

CUOMO: Right. He wasn't Trump's boy for a decade.

SCHULTZ: Well --

CUOMO: He wasn't Trump's boy for a decade.

SCHULTZ: The other night, Chris, you were telling me how much Manafort was so tied to the President. Now, he's not the President boy --

CUOMO: Well, he wasn't campaign chairman.

SCHULTZ: OK. But you can't have it both ways. And that --

CUOMO: Sure, you can. Manafort matters because he was the campaign chair. Cohen matters hell of a lot more, because he was watching Trump in action for over a decade.

SCHULTZ: They audio-taped his clients as a lawyer.


SCHULTZ: One of the biggest no, no --

CUOMO: I'm well aware.

SCHULTZ: Right. So, to say again -- and I'm not talking about Mueller here, I'm talking about us as talking heads, the American people to take what Cohen is saying as gospel until we see the facts until we see the report, I think is very -- is not the right thing to do.

CUOMO: Well, but again, Berit, Mueller has proof that those in concert with what Cohen is saying is true about the Russian deal and the timing and something else just in terms of integrity and character. If Cohen wanted to put one on Trump on this, he would have said, I lied to Congress and the President told me to do it.

BERGER: That's exactly right.

CUOMO: He didn't say that.

BERGER: That's exactly right.

CUOMO: He didn't say that. He said I did it because I thought it's what he wanted me to do. He gave him cover if anything.

BERGER: Yes. I mean, that's one thing that prosecutors often argue about the cooperating witnesses. They say, look, if they want to frame somebody, if they would just want to put one over. Like, why wouldn't they lie bigger, they would lie better.

And to your point on integrity, I think what the special council's office did with respect to Manafort shows just the absolute integrity of that office. When they found out that he had lied to them they didn't say, OK, let's see if we can fix this, because obviously this was an important witness to them.

He's someone that maybe they were going to indict other people, because of his testimony, but they didn't just, you know, brush it under the rug, they didn't say they could work with it, they did what they said they were going to do, which is rip up his agreement because he had lied. I think that shows the absolute integrity and they're doing exactly what they should be doing as really respectful to the prosecutors.

SCHULTZ: I agree that Mueller's team is doing precisely what they should be doing. But we, as the American people, we as spectators to all this, I don't think -- I think it's irresponsible for us to jump to conclusions.

CUOMO: 100%.

SCHULTZ: Automatically, just because Mueller finds some use in Michael Cohen that automatically what he says is gospel, what he says is the truth.

CUOMO: Nobody is saying that.

BERGER: I agree, the only person --

CUOMO: Nobody is saying that. There's no reason to exaggerate effect. We're taking step by step. And when you look at it, piece by piece, I heard something very interesting today that's getting very little notice, which was that the understanding from the reporting of those around the President say, hey, you know, he was asked about this, and he said what the reality was for him.

He was busy with the race, he didn't know. This was Cohen freelancing and trying to get something done. Cohen didn't know what e-mail to use in Russia. This was low level dealing with Felix Sater. It's no big deal, otherwise Trump would have been involved.

[21:10:13] And the President today on the fly said something very interesting, Jim, he said, I decided not to do this deal. I decided not to do it. Well, which is it? Did you not have any attention paid? Were you really focused on the race, and you didn't know anything about this, or did you know enough to make the decision not to go forward with the deal? Those two can't be true.

SCHULTZ: He's leading a major company, while running for the highest office in the land. He's not going to be involved in every intimate detail of the campaign, as he shouldn't be. He's not going to be involved in every intimate detail of running that company, as he shouldn't be while he's running for President. That's not to say that he can't be briefed and make decisions. So to say that automatically --

CUOMO: He said he ended it. That's a lot of involvement.

SCHULTZ: OK. He said he ended it. That means he was briefed but that doesn't mean that he had every intimate detail along the way, every offer that was made. Remember, there are a lot of real estate deals that the Trump organization gets involved in on a day to day basis. And granted this is a big one. No, question about it. But to say that the President was involved while he was candidate Trump and intimate details --

CUOMO: While he was a candidate --

SCHULTZ: -- of the business dealing --

CUOMO: Say that he had no --

SCHULTZ: -- doing rally after rally after rally.

CUOMO: Yes, and at that rally.

SCHULTZ: Night after night after night --

CUOMO: And at that rally, at one of those rallies, Jim -- Hold on a second. At one of those rallies, Berit, he raised his hand for a moment. With the crowd howling, and said, I promise, I swear I never had -- I had nothing to do with Russia, at that very moment he did.

At that very moment, during the campaign when he was the presumptive nominee for his party, they came up with that weird plank in the platform in the convention that favored Russia and the situation with Ukraine, he did have aspirations of having a deal with Russia on a development deal where Putin may be gifted a $50 million apartment to drew suitors. Isn't that something the American people should know?

SCHULTZ: We don't know what the President knew about that. And we don't know when he knew about it.

CUOMO: He knew enough to cancel the deal.

BERGER: Right --

CUOMO: He knew enough to cancel the deal, Berit.

SCHULTZ: But he might not have known the facts relating to sweetening the deal, marketing the deal.

CUOMO: I know a signed letter of intent. BERGER: I agree with you, and to some extent, the only person as of

today, that we know is guilty is Michael Cohen because he admitted he was guilty. So I agree we cannot rush to judgment about who knew what when. The only person today that is guilty is Michael Cohen.

However, my point is, if everything is above board, if there are no issues, if this is all just regular, you know, hedging your bets, because this is a normal business transaction, why lie. The prosecutors confront this all the time.

The situations in which people are lying about something usually mean that something is not right. So the fact that we have people that cannot seem to get their stories straight on this, like indicates to me that there's something sketchy going on here.

CUOMO: And I'll tell you, ordinarily, I'm spared on the -- wow, I wonder what happens next, usually I think, just because this happened doesn't mean something else does, not this time. If Mueller believes Cohen on something like this, there could be much more that he believes him about. And those who have been reporting on this story as I have, know that's a pretty deep well.

Berit Berger, Jim Schultz, appreciate the robust dialogue.

All right, tonight is about piecing things together, now that we have all these new facts and this new perspective, you can connect dots about where this could all lead, and it's not about illegality necessarily. Remember that, it's not just a prosecution in a court of law, it could come down to the court of public opinion, you. It could come down to an action by Congress. And there are clues in the Cohen plea documents that point to what might else come. Next.


[21:17:52] CUOMO: All right. Facts first, and a look forward, three months ago, Michael Cohen pleaded guilty in a separate case relating to hush money payments and violating campaign finance laws all for the President.

Now, at that time he offered to give information to the government but was not given a cooperation deal. That's something to flag, why? It means he had to impress Mueller's team in order for them to give him anything in return.

After some 70 hours of interviews, and admitted that he lied to Congress about the Russia deal, Mueller put his own name on a document before a judge saying that Michael Cohen is valuable and credible.

So, what can we deuce from that document. Let's do some reading between the lines. First, if Mueller believes Cohen, that the President wanted to hide the potential deal. That means he reasonably believes the President had a motive to be soft on Putin, which has certainly been the case.

Was that the same motive that led to a favorable plank in the party convention platform? And obviously, motive to lie about having any financial connections to Russia during the campaign, which if Michael Cohen and Felix Sater, the man who was trying to make the deal happen in Russia happen for Cohen and the President, reportedly, this deal included offering Vladimir Putin a $50 million penthouse, in a building with Trump's name on it, to boost sales to other oligarchs.

All of which the President was apparently lying about even after he was a Republican nominee for President. More proof of a problem for the President. If it is all nonsense, none of this is true, why has Russia been lying to cover for Trump, just like Cohen did?

When first asked about Trump reaching out to them through Cohen, here's what Kremlin spokesman, Dmitry Peskov said, it was in August of 2017, we do not react to such business topics, this is not our work, we left it unanswered, OK?

Cohen said and proved to Mueller's satisfaction, that they did in fact answer more than once in writing and on the phone, and then today, the Kremlin pretty much confirmed the same. Why lie if there was nothing to hide? Or is the truth as simple as they lied, because there was something to hide.

[21:20:19] Cohen's admissions, not only intensify scrutiny on the President, but also his family. Cohen says, he was in contact with the family about this deal well into the campaign. The timeline not clear at this point. But it does suggest that Trump and his family were still pressing for a deal even in the lead up to Trump becoming the presumptive Republican nominee. And Donald Trump Jr. told Congress he knew very little about the deal.

Another issue, can Cohen assist Mueller in showing he knew plenty about that deal? The big question now, what else does Cohen know that Mueller finds credible? So what do we know about Cohen? He never went to the White House, but he was in Trump's office when the campaign was largely run out of it for a long time, and he was with him many years before that.

What the President may know about the Trump Tower meeting with a Russian operative, when the WikiLeaks e-mail dumps were coming, could all be in Cohen's wheel house.

And remember, Cohen can just be a corroborator, adding to what others have told Mueller. Remember, he's seen 100 people. He also has some kind of deal between the prosecutors and the chief financial officer of the Trump organization. So while not a primary source, Michael Cohen or others could offer documents, anecdotes, proof that the President says things that he doesn't want to now own.

And interestingly, our President says that he kept Michael Cohen around for so long, because Cohen once did him a favor, ominous (ph). Those close to Cohen think this is another lie from the President of the United States. But to be sure, Michael Cohen is not doing any more favors for this President.

Now, my next guest says the worst may be yet to come for Donald J. Trump. Is he right? Former White House Ethics Czar, Norm Eisen's predictions tested. Next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[21:26:17] CUOMO: Special Counsel Bob Mueller has never gotten closer to showing wrongdoing the -- by the President at least in public than he did today. And we should expect many more shoes to drop in the coming weeks, says former White House Ethics Czar, Norm Eisen who joins me now.

All right, time for the student to take on the teacher here. Let's point/counter point this, and see if we can provide some more understanding for folks. Why are you so impressed by what happened today?

NORM EISEN, FORMER WHITE HOUSE ETHICS CZAR: Well, you have somebody who's in Trump's innermost circle for so long, Chris, who's known as his fixer, who knows where the bodies is -- are buried, who's stepping up and admitting that he lied to Congress to cover up the continued business dealings between Donald Trump and the Trump organization during the campaign when Trump had already clinched the nomination.

Contrary to what Trump was saying at the time, why the lies, what is the reason for the cover-up, why did Cohen take the risk of lying to Congress. This is another very important piece in the puzzle of collusion of obstruction and the plea today helps on campaign finance crimes as well. So, all three fronts materially advanced.

CUOMO: How does it help on campaign finance?

EISEN: The key witness, remember, the last time that Michael Cohen pled guilty, he stood up and he said that the President of the United States had instructed him to violate the campaign finance laws by facilitating the payment to Stormy Daniels. Now, you have 70 hours of cooperation with Mueller who knows how much time with the Southern District of New York, here's your tour guide for that campaign finance violation.


EISEN: And he got healthy on his congressional false statement charges by coming clean today. He's a much more dangerous witness.

CUOMO: All right. Counterpoints. One, unlike the last time that Michael Cohen admitted what he did, this time he did not say that the President made him do it. He said the opposite. He said he was doing this because he thought it would be helpful to the President. So he didn't throw the President under the bus.

Two, the president says this was all Cohen. This was Cohen and his buddy Felix, trying to get this done. It was a nothing deal, it never happened, Michael Cohen didn't know the right e-mail at the Kremlin to use.

And third and the alternative, even if everything you're saying is right, there was nothing illegal about the President trying to find business while he was campaigning. It's not illegal. And when he said, I didn't have any business, that's because to him business means a done deal that's making money. And this was still in the offering stages.

EISEN: Well, Chris, if it was such a nothing burger, why did then candidate Trump lie about it, stand up and say he had no business dealings with Russia?

CUOMO: Because it was just an idea. There was no business.

EISEN: These ideas are material to the American people. And if it were that benign, I don't think Trump and Cohen would have gone to such lengths to conceal it. Consider the legal aspects, Chris, there's reporting tonight that there may have been an offer of a $50 million penthouse to Vladimir Putin. That's a potential foreign corrupt practices act violation.

CUOMO: It depends who makes the offer and who receives the benefit.

EISEN: Do you really believe that Michael Cohen would offer to give away $50 million of Donald Trump's property without checking with him?

CUOMO: Wasn't his property, it was a licensing deal.

EISEN: It would have been a hit to Donald Trump to have that property being given away.

CUOMO: It was a marketing play. It might have raised more money for the deal, pursuant to which the President would have gotten a cut. But it is an important distinction. You know, the President likes to say he was a developer.

[21:30:14] But more and more often later in his career, when he got to his bigger stage, and that's pun intended it was TV that made him a famous businessman, not his actual businesses. And this deal was an example of that.

The letter of intent, Norm, shows that this was a licensing deal, where the President may also have gotten the management right to the hotel. But that he wasn't giving Vladimir Putin everything, this was a marketing scheme to draw attention to the project by Cohen and Felix Sater and get other oligarchs to want to buy apartments.

EISEN: Well, that's not the way the FCPA works. If there was something a value-tendered with a corrupt intent in order to induce the Russians and Putin to approve this deal, then whoever made that offer is on the hook. I think it's -- we're not just talking about Cohen here, Mueller has sponsored the statement by Cohen that he had frequent communications, more frequent than he admitted with individual one. Donald Trump. I believe that you have to look at it, this is why it matters for collusion, obstruction. You have to look at the content --

CUOMO: Where's the collusion, where's the obstruction.

EISEN: The motive, the motive. Chris. Here's how it matters.

CUOMO: Please. EISEN: Here's how it matters for collusion. We just -- like we've

had with obstruction. There's accumulating evidence of this back and forth between Russia and those around President Trump. Now, today we have another important revelation of that back and forth. It creates a motive, it creates an understanding, it creates a pattern that Trump and Russia wanted to help each other. On obstruction, have you to remember what we saw today is just the tip of the iceberg. We know --

CUOMO: How do you know?

EISEN: There are -- because we don't have 70 hours worth of conversations in this scanty plea agreement, OK? You have the tip of the iceberg, Cohen was there for 10 years, he was the -- we know there's much more that than he's going to talk about, and I believe that I has been asked -- it would be malpractice for Mueller not to ask it, and there have been media reports that he's been asked, was there any inducement --

CUOMO: Yes. I can confirm that, that this deal was asked to the President in Mueller's interrogatories, written questions.

EISEN: Well, Chris, let me ask you a question. If the President is willing to say in public to the New York Post that he has not taken off a pardon for Paul Manafort from the table, can you imagine what might have been said in private? I'm not saying it was said, it may or may not have been.

CUOMO: Highly speculative, counselor.

EISEN: I agree. But boy, there's the potential, when you have somebody who was so close and who kept talking to Trump. We know that Cohen and Trump continued talking after any reasonable criminal defense lawyer would have said, stop talking to each other.

CUOMO: That is true.

EISEN: Who knows what was said in those conversations and who knows how it maybe corroborated.

CUOMO: I'll tell you who knows, Michael Cohen knows.

EISEN: And Donald Trump.

CUOMO: And there was something you said -- I'll end on a high note for you. Some time ago, you may not even remember, because you pass along so much wisdom to me. You said, when we found out that the questions were coming, you said to my, they made a mistake waiting this long to answer these questions. Because they think they were buying time, but they were actually selling time to Bob Mueller to give him more time to figure things out before he asked them the questions, and now we're seeing that he's responding pretty quickly to putting pieces together. Norm Eisen, as always, thank you for expanding our perspective.

EISEN: Thank you, Chris.

CUOMO: I appreciate it.

All right, so how does all of this factor into the President's refusal to criticize Vladimir Putin because let's be honest, beyond legalities and speculation, that's the -- you know, the bothersome question. What does Putin have on this President to explain why he's so soft where Putin is involved?

Two of the best brains in the intelligence business and Phil Mudd, next.


[21:3818] CUOMO: Trump's entanglements with Russia, no longer just a point of speculation. What's that tell us about his oddly soft relationship with Putin? And how does Ukraine factor into all of this, especially right before the G20 which is where the president is right now in Argentina? Two great minds for all this, Phil Mudd and Mike Rogers. Gentlemen, thank you for doing this tonight.

Mike, let me start with you --


CUOMO: -- in terms of what real exposure can be here. This notion that Vladimir Putin may have been gifted an apartment in this development deal where they were trying to license Trump's name and maybe give him a cut of the action, it matters to you, why?

ROGERS: Well, the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act is pretty serious. And so you don't have to even fully transact the deal. You just have to offer it. If you're offering something of value, to get something of value, you are in violation of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. It would be hard for anyone to argue that you didn't give something of value -- or offer, excuse me, something of value to the President of Russia to get approved a building to have some value there. That's against the law.

And so it's not the Trump Organization --

CUOMO: What's the difference between a corrupt practice and a business deal?

ROGERS: Well, in -- when you're dealing overseas, you cannot offer something of value. And the reason the United States does this is to promote U.S. values overseas. So if you look at countries like Russia or -- and African countries where corruption is rampant, it puts the onus on American businesses to do the right thing. Meaning, if you're asked for a bribe, you have you to say no, and you should report it. And if you offer a bribe, you're in violation of the law. And it's pretty tough. It's pretty strict.

[21:40:00] And so even if -- they keep saying the Trump Organization, and what I -- my theory on this is, now you have Cohen. I think that's probably why the Trump Organization is rattled, is that he probably would have some -- at least insight into that. And then if you take their treasurer and accountant who's already cooperating, this could spell trouble I think for them if in fact they offered this as part of a deal, even if the deal didn't go through.

If you offered something of value to get that deal go through, you are in violation of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. And that's by the way a felony. That's a pretty serious charge. So somebody in that organization is going to have to be accountable for that, I think.

CUOMO: OK. So let's take that point. So we're talking about the CFO of the Trump Organization, who was with Donald Trump so long that he actually started working with Donald Trump's father. And you have Michael Cohen, who was there for a decade and as much as people want to minimize him now, he was up to his elbows in a lot of Trump intrigue and business. So what kind of well can those two draw water from?

ROGERS: If that question's for me?

CUOMO: No, that's to Phil. I want to get to him, Mike, and then I'll come back to you.

ROGERS: No, that's fine.

CUOMO: Go ahead, Phil.

PHIL MUDD, FORMER CIA COUNTERTERRORISM OFFICIAL: I think the wells are starting to come together here. The one question you would have to pick up on what Congressman Rogers said is, are there illegitimate financial transactions that go to the core of the election campaign in mid-2016? Fine, that's what Michael Cohen is talking about.

The piece we have not discussed here is at the same time during this week we're seeing allegations that the campaign manager, Paul Manafort, is having conversations with individuals with WikiLeaks connected with Russia about whether the Trump campaign can receive information of value, what are you going to release about Hillary Clinton during the campaign. Here is the bottom line, Chris. Manafort is talking to Russian intermediaries, WikiLeaks about whether Russia is going to dump information on Clinton.

Cohen is talking about Russians, about business deals. You want to tell me those two pieces aren't going to come together? People talking about money aren't also talking about dumping information during the campaign? That smells dirty, that smells bad.

CUOMO: Well, there is one coincidence as a matter of timing. It shows that looking at the timeline, the day on which Michael Cohen said, hey, I'm not interested in going to Russia anymore, it's not going to happen, was the same day that "The Washington Post" came out with the article that the Russians were involved in the hacking of the e-mails. It's interesting, Mike, even if it's irrelevant in terms of the motivation.

ROGERS: Let me put my FBI hat on for a minute. So if I'm the investigator in this, here's what I'm interested in. So -- and Phil's right. There's business relationships and there could be violations in that that would be separate -- completely separate from a collusion charge. Got that. But what is interesting is that the business relationships may have

established the relationships that they could have used -- and I think this is Phil's point, in -- to provide at least the knowing of the release of e-mails, and by the way, that's not really collusion.

I think they could charge them, if that in fact is true and all of that comes together, they could charge them on the Computer Abuse Act. And what that is, is that you knowingly or conspired to release information that you know is illegally obtained. And so that's a real charge. Collusion is not a real charge. That is a real charge.

And so if you start seeing the gelling of all of this, you think, OK, they're doing these things in their business world, some of it or most of it, or all of it could have been legitimate but it is established connections at the senior enough level on the collusion piece. All you'd have to do is have witnesses say, well, yes. And by they way, this is the next --

CUOMO: Right.

ROGERS: -- series of things that happened. I'm not saying that happened, but I'm saying that that -- well, if you're an investigator, this is -- today was a bad day for the President.

CUOMO: Right. Let's talk about why it might not have been if you're the President's counsel, all right, Phil? And you can't indict the sitting President. I mean the DOJ guidance on it is pretty clear.

And unless that we've heard that they've asked for new guidance or that there's some new reckoning, I guess, they could indict them and set it aside. It comes down to political exposure. And where do you have the President? Where are you going to have? Maybe you're going to prove mighty mendacity. This guy lies all the time? It's --


CUOMO: -- self-serving. But how do you get him? How is he in any real trouble?

MUDD: No. No, no. I don't buy this for a heartbeat. There's a difference between whether you violated the law and whether you did something that's inappropriate in the face of the American people. If I had stood and I did in the face of Mike Rogers and said, look, I had conversations with the Russians about a business deal when I was a senior FBI officer, at the same time, we were having conversations about counterterrorism policy and I said, I'm sorry, Congressman, those conversations didn't violate the law, but they look horrible in the face of "The Washington Post," and CNN and "The New York Times."

[21:45:04] I'm sorry, Chris, the question isn't solely whether the law was violated. The question in mid-2016 in the midst of the campaign is, Mr. President, is it appropriate to have business conversations with the Russians at the same time you're determining what your policy is on sanctions with them? I don't care what the law says --

CUOMO: And he lies and spins it away. MUDD: No, no.

CUOMO: And there's no criminal charge, and there's nothing that I've seen yet, Mike, where Republicans in the Senate are going to go along with any impeachment movement. In fact, even Nancy Pelosi was throwing water during the campaign in the midterms on impeachment. And it would have to be something that the American people want. What do you think triggers that?

We all remember former President Ford saying high crime or misdemeanor for purposes of impeachment is anything that Congress says it is. But now we're dealing with a different metric. What do the American people say is too much?

ROGERS: Yes. By the way, I don't think we've come -- met the threshold for impeachment. I think that is a very --

CUOMO: What are you nodding your head for, Phil? You were just in high dudgeon. Now, you're nodding your head.

ROGERS: What I think what Phil is saying, there's a, you know, there's a different discussion to be had on this versus we're going to impeach the President. At the end of the day, you know, listen, you know, your mothers are always right, and the people that you hang out with, you know, says a lot about who you are. And the President clearly has a cast of characters that we probably, you know, wouldn't --

CUOMO: Only the best.

ROGERS: Well, you know, I mean, they're going to start weighing these plea agreements, I think, versus counting the number. And so I think that's a problem. And that's a problem politically.

Now, that said, it doesn't mean that the President of the United States violated the law, I think there is, boy, the, you know, the smell coming from that particular corner of his business dealings aren't -- is not very good. It doesn't mean he violated the law.

So -- and to me, if you're going to impeach the President, you have to meet that standard. And I'll tell you why because we are such a divided country. Whoever the next president is, you don't want the first conversation to be had, is, well, they did x on y and we think that they've done something wrong.

You know, this is still a country where you have to prove it. And so do I think that there's some problems here, and I -- do I think it was a bad day politically for the President? I do. I think the fact that he -- the one guy that was doing all of the deals with women and affairs and all of the other financial trends attitudes. And did other favors for the President, whatever that is.

And now the FBI knows it and you take that with all of the other cooperators, I just think this is a bad day for the President because something's going to come out, even if it's not impeachment, it certainly doesn't look very good. CUOMO: At a minimum, Phil Mudd anything to add?

MUDD: No, I agree. Look, the question isn't whether the President did something unethical. The question is whether we should overturn the will of the people. I agree with the Congress. I mean that bar better be very high.

CUOMO: Very high. You know, look, and that's the way to design that when Madison was working on high crimes and misdemeanors on impeachment, they were worried that it would be used as political pay back. You can't have that. You've got to meet a very high bar. What that is is different in every situation.

Phil Mudd, Mike Rogers, thanks to both of you, gentlemen. I appreciate it.

ROGERS: Thanks, Chris.

CUOMO: All right. I've told you before, some of the talk, some of the posturing, some of the behavior that we've seen with the President and those around him throughout this process, seems very mobbish, seems almost like a caricature of a mob movie. The language sounds, you know -- there's something to Italian-Americans that's offensive to even discuss. But it does have a flavor of the sopranos, what they see as weak and who's a rat and what's strong and the guy did me favors.

You know, it's like stuff I used to hear on the corner and I would be rushed away, so I wouldn't be corrupted by that influence. Today, we saw some real examples of this from the highest elected official in the land. And as Mike Rogers just said, this is about what you think, what do you think of this?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If Cohen is such a bum, why did you hire him? Have him on your payroll for 12 years, and have him do so much of your dirty work --

TRUMP: Because a long time ago he did me a favor. A long time ago, he did me a favor.


CUOMO: Now, first of all, let's bring in Don Lemon.

Don, I spent all day tracking down reporting on this story with people on all sides of it. And those in the know believe that this is a bluff by the President that this wasn't about a favor. He brought him in because he was loyal as hell and he worked his ass off and he did what the President wanted him to do for a very long time.

But even that notion, hey, he did me a favor, so I gave him a job. He's weak. If you don't admit to a lie, then you're strong. If you turn with the government, then you're a rat. This is not the way a high elected official is supposed to talk. It's the way guys talk to me when they're wearing orange jumpsuits and explaining why they got done wrong.

[21:50:09] DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Well, I guess you're right. Any time someone is -- doesn't say glowing things about -- and this is beyond glowing, not saying glowing things. This is about turning on him. He has terrible things to say about them. They were basically a water boy or a coffee boy or worked for my campaign just for a few short weeks or they weren't that good at their jobs.

I don't know anyone that, you know, I -- is not good at their job and they keep a job for over a decade as a favor. Michael Cohen isn't -- was an attorney. He can't practice now because of what's happened.

CUOMO: Taking care of the most intimate situations that could ruin you.

LEMON: Yes. But think about this, he's an attorney. OK, so you give him one case or two cases and you say, OK, great, you know, the favor, I've made good on the favor. I've got to tell you, though, and I'll talk to you about it at the top of the hour because I actually talked to Michael Cohen today. I know that you know him. You've known him for a long time. I've known him for a bit. I talked to him today.

And so at the top of the hour we'll talk about what happened. And then we're also going to talk a little bit later to Eric Swalwell. They're going to be in the majority. Are they going to bring Michael Cohen back for questioning? We'll talk about that as well.

CUOMO: They've got big decisions to make about how much they want to use their new power. How much is about deal making, how much is about over side or as I joke and say ball breaking. We'll see.


CUOMO: D. Lemon, thank you. I'll see you at the top of the hour.


CUOMO: All right. So both Michael Cohen and the President lied. However, only one is admitting it so far. If you want to know the truth about the President's intentions, all you need to do is turn to his reaction today to the Cohen plea. His words revealed so much, and I'll break it down for you next.


[21:55:43] CUOMO: A president not breaking the law is not enough for satisfactory conduct in a presidency. How you conduct yourself, being straight with Americans, that matters, too. And today was the biggest piece in a pattern of lying about what matters that uniquely defines this President. Exhibit a --


TRUMP: So Michael Cohen has made many statements to the House, as I understand it, and the Senate. He put out a statement talking about a project which was essentially I guess more or less of an option that we were looking at in Moscow. Everybody knew about it. It was written about in newspapers.


CUOMO: Go Google. You won't find anything about this deal until after the election when it became interesting to investigators. And this is not a throwaway lie, it matters, and you'll see why after the next exhibit, which has three critical elements in just three sentences. Listen.


TRUMP: I didn't do the project. I decided not to do the project. So I didn't do it. So we're not talking about doing a project, we're talking about not doing a project. Michael Cohen, what he's doing is he was convicted -- he was convicted of various things unrelated to us.


CUOMO: The issue is not that the project never came to fruition. It's that it was in the works at a time when the President said he had no business with Russia, no investments. Not doing the deal doesn't excuse the President from lying about trying to get a deal done. And the President just said he decided not to do the deal. That's key. Why?

Michael Cohen had said originally when he lied to Congress that he decided that the deal was dead. That gave Trump cover. Trump's argument right there, that he was busy with the race, he wasn't paying any attention so he didn't know anything about this. If that's true then how could he have been the one to pull the plug? Was he involved or not?

Lastly, Cohen was not convicted of things unrelated to the President. The opposite is true. They were almost all directly related to the President. Do you think Michael Cohen paid off those women for himself? And now comes the one-two punch of Trumpian character assassination. Exhibit c --


TRUMP: He was given a fairly long jail sentence and he's a weak person, and by being weak, unlike other people that you watch --


CUOMO: See, this goes to the mobbishness that I was talking about with Don. When the facts are not your friend, make the truth dealer your foe. To the President, telling the truth is weak. Other people. He's mentioned Roger Stone, Jerome Corsi, Paul Manafort. They're strong because they refuse to admit lies in the President's mind? Is this a President or, again, a mob boss type of notion? Then the last bit where the President says the most when he actually tells the truth.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) TRUMP: There would be nothing wrong if I did do it. I was running my business while I was campaigning. There was a good chance that I wouldn't have won, in which case I would have gone back into the business, and why should I lose lots of opportunities?


CUOMO: He's right. There was nothing illegal necessarily about simply running his business while running for President. Unusual but not illegal. But the President kept at it because he never thought he would win. He was having Cohen and the kids do all they could to maximize the campaign exposure because he thought he would lose and he wanted to make the most of it while he could.

And that is very important in understanding why they would have kept doing this deal at a time when it would really smell bad. What a coincidence that the efforts to do this deal stopped on June 14th, 2016, the same day "The Washington Post" reported on the Russian involvement in election hacks.

And that takes us to the arguable larger truth. The President was lying about what he was doing because he knew it was wrong. And all the twisting and attacking and fake this and hoax that can't make Mueller believe that the President was lying about it any less.

As we teach our kids and as Walter Scott explained perfectly, oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive.

That's all for us tonight. Thank you for watching. "CNN TONIGHT" with D. Lemon stars right now.