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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES
Penthouse For Putin Considered At Trump Tower Moscow Reportedly Worth $50 Million; Ex-Trump Lawyer Michael Cohen Pleads Guilty To Lying To Congress About Trump Tower Moscow Project To Protect Trump; President Trump Says He Won't Meet With Putin At G-20; After Cohen Admits Lying About Trump's Business In Russia, Trump Cancels Meeting With Putin Citing Situation With Ukraine. Aired 8-9p ET
Aired November 29, 2018 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[20:00:11] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Good evening.
Within the past hour, new information about just how badly the Trump organization wanted to build a Trump Tower in Moscow. The idea floated was to give a gift to Vladimir Putin, a $50 million gift, a penthouse apartment for Vladimir Putin on the top of Trump Tower in Moscow, a deal that Michael Cohen says he and the Trump Organization were pursuing well into the 2016 campaign.
Now, the information comes from one of Mr. Trump's partners in effort, and now, this is not something that candidate Trump ever mentioned. Did Mr. Trump know about the $50 million gift idea? We don't know the answer to that. But others involved in the attempt to build in Moscow apparently did.
It's been quite a day for President Trump. He arrives just minutes from now in Buenos Aires for the G20 summit. Just before he left for the airport, as you know, Michael Cohen, his former trusted adviser and lawyer, stood up in court and admitted to lying to Congress about Trump business dealings with Russia.
As part of a plea agreement with Robert Mueller's team, he admitted the dealings continued far into the campaign up to and including when candidate Trump was the presumptive Republican nominee. Now, the charging document lays out conversations Mr. Cohen had with Russians, including a close adviser to Vladimir Putin about the potential Trump Tower project in Moscow. They went on, according to the document, until mid June of 2016, I'm quoting, on or about June 14th, according to the charging document.
Now, why is that date important? That happens to be the date that "The Washington Post" broke a big story that Russia had hacked the Democratic National Committee. The timeline is far longer than what Mr. Cohen told the House and Senate Intelligence Committees last year. Today in court, he said he lied to help the president, known in the court transcript as individual one.
I'm quoting: I was aware of individual one's repeated disavowals of commercial and political ties between himself and Russia and that any contact with Russian nationals by individual one's campaign or the Trump Organization had all terminated before the Iowa caucus, which was on February 1st of 2016. Which Cohen now says was not true. The last conversation was on or about June 14th of that year.
He went on to say, quote: I made these misstatements, he concluded, to be consistent with individual one's political messaging and out of loyalty to individual one.
So, he's saying he was lying to Congress because candidate Trump was lying to the American people.
The president responded today saying this about Michael Cohen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He was given a fairly long jail sentence, and he's a weak person, and by being weak, unlike other people that you watch, he's a weak person, and what he's trying to do is get a reduced sentence. So, he's lying about a project that everybody knew about. I mean, we were very open with it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: So that's Donald Trump who only hired the best people according to Mr. Trump. He would have you believe that he was employing as a close confidant and attorney for years a weak person who is also a liar. He's also claiming that he's been open all along about his business dealings in Moscow.
Keeping them honest, though, here is what he tweeted back in July of 2016. Quote: For the record, I have zero investments in Russia, which may have been technically accurate, we don't know one way or another because no one has seen his taxes. In any case, the tweet leaves out a bit about his company being in talks until just a few weeks before about big investments in Russia, and the desire for a close relationship with the Kremlin. So he wasn't being open about it in July.
He was less so after becoming the nominee.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: What do I know about the Russians? What do I know about the Russians?
Then they said, he borrows money from them. I don't borrow from the Russians. I promise you, I never made. I don't have any deals with Russia. I had Miss Universe there a couple of years ago, other than that, no. I have nothing to do --
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Miss Universe was in 2013, so he's saying there that he had had no deals in Russia since. We now know his organization was trying to. Here's what Mr. Trump said a few weeks before Election Day.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I know nothing about Russia. I know about Russia, but I know nothing about the inner workings of Russia. I don't deal there. I have no businesses there. I have no loans from Russia.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: I don't deal there, he said, present tense, not something along the lines of I was in fact trying to deal there big time, until a few weeks ago, and I just thought the voters might like to know. He didn't say that.
At best, you could say he was being untruthful by omission. And the same could be said for this tweet, as president-elect in January of 2017. Russia has never tried to use leverage over me, I have nothing to do with Russia, no deals, no loans, no nothing.
Which is one of the things the Mueller team is obviously investigating, did Russia try to use the kind of leverage that might come, say, from knowing the president of the United States, had been less than forthcoming about his company's business dealings or attempted dealings during the campaign with Moscow. It's kind of question that leaves on the other side of the president's red line about investigating his business and potentially his personal finances. Today, Robert Mueller crossed that line. He also now has the president's written answers, perhaps covering some the same ground that Cohen was.
[20:05:00] The question is, was the president being truthful in those written answers? His lawyers say he was. We first don't know what the exact wording of his answers were. He could release them, he hasn't.
Keeping them honest, it's well-documented the president sometimes falls short, as Robert Mueller biographer Garrick Graff noticed earlier today. He points to a presidential tweet from this morning about the Mueller investigation.
Quote: Did you ever see an investigation more in search of a crime, the president tweeted. At that moment, we now know that the president already knew about Cohen pleading guilty to lying to Congress. Tweeting is easy, truthing, that's another deal entirely.
There's much more to report on this. CNN's Pamela Brown joins with us more on the Putin penthouse angle.
So, explain what we know about this. Was this, you know, an absolute plan? Was this just something they were floating, the organization? What do we know?
PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: It was an idea that was considered, we've learned, as part of the Trump Tower Moscow proposal. And the idea was to offer Russian President Vladimir Putin the penthouse suite if there was a Trump Tower Moscow built, which we know never came to fruition. But this is according to the Russian real estate developer Felix Sater, who was working with Cohen on the Trump Tower Moscow proposal.
Sater described this concept to my colleague Cristina Alesci as a marketing ploy. So he claims that he was an idea to bring people, he explained the idea was to enhance the idea and to attract buyers by having the president of Russia, Vladimir Putin, in this building.
Now, in the court documents today, Anderson, Sater appeared to be listed as individual number two, a number of times as someone seen as intermediary of sorts between Cohen and Russia. And so, he was a key figure in these dealings, and, you know, of course, again we should reiterate this never came to fruition. But what's significant here, according to "BuzzFeed", which first reported this news, is that Cohen discussed the idea with a representative of Putin's press secretary, and that the penthouse that would have been offered to Putin was worth $50 million. So it would have been a $50 million gift potentially to the president of Russia.
COOPER: Is there any indication that the president or then citizen Donald Trump was made aware of this proposed gift of $50 million -- of a $50 million penthouse?
BROWN: It's not clear. I think candidate Trump was informed of the idea, so it's hard to say what the significance of this is, as it pertains to him. It does give you more insight into what was in the works.
We should note Rudy Giuliani, the president's attorney, said this tonight. He says, the story is a story the president never heard of this, and the concept never got anywhere beyond an unfunded letter of intent and never even a proposal or draft contract. Cohen would not provide a comment for the story, Anderson.
COOPER: Do we know what he means by an unfunded letter of intent as opposed to -- I mean, I don't know what that means. I'm not a business person, but I haven't heard that.
BROWN: I have not either. I think the point he's trying to make is there was a letter of intent signed and it never got beyond that. In other words, there wasn't money going to build Trump Tower Moscow. It didn't really go beyond that.
COOPER: OK. Pam Brown, appreciate it. Thank you.
COOPER: As we said, the president is expected to land momentarily in Argentina's capital. Jim Acosta is there.
So, the president tweeting a lot today en route to Buenos Aires. No single tweet about Michael Cohen or the Mueller investigation, however.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Anderson. He's been uncharacteristically silent on that subject. He did tweet he's not meeting with Vladimir Putin down at this G20 Summit here in Argentina, and also tweeted some book reviews of some books written by conservative authors that he likes, and invited the chair of the RNC, Ronna McDaniel, to stay on for another term. But silence at this point on the Twitter, we should point, about Cohen or the Russia investigation.
COOPER: Wait a minute, sorry. On the way to the G20 meeting, he was tweeting book recommendations?
ACOSTA: Yes. He was tweeting various recommendations of books from conservative authors. Some appearing on Fox News, that he's suggesting to his Twitter followers that they read, sort of surreal thing for him to be getting involved in, when he just, you know, called his former personal attorney a liar on the South Lawn of the White House before heading down here to Argentina.
COOPER: Yesterday, the president said a pardon for Paul Manafort wasn't off the table. I'm going to venture a guess, given the president's statement today, that a pardon for Michael Cohen isn't even anywhere near a table.
ACOSTA: I think it's near a table. I don't think it's in the Oval Office. I think it's safe to say that that's not coming at this point, Anderson.
And we should also point out, Lanny Davis, who is an attorney for Michael Cohen, has said previously, and did so over the summer, that Michael Cohen does not want a pardon from President Trump and would not accept one, Anderson.
COOPER: Right. Even though, I mean, technically, one doesn't refuse a pardon. It doesn't work that way. But I get what Lanny Davis is saying.
ACOSTA: That's true, yes.
COOPER: What are people around the president and the White House saying about all this?
[20:10:05] ACOSTA: Well, I do think that when it comes to Michael Cohen, I mean, the feelings are very clear. When you saw what the president said earlier today, calling Michael Cohen a liar and weak. Rudy Giuliani putting out that scathing statement, calling Michael Cohen a liar, this seems to be the talking point. I supposed if the president speaks tomorrow when he signs this trade deal with Canada and Mexico tomorrow morning here in Argentina, he may go back to that language.
But, Anderson, I heard one chilling message from a source close to the White House, a source close to the president earlier today who described Michael Cohen as a rat, and said inmates hate rats. I think that's just the clearest indication I heard from anybody connected to the president that there is no love for Michael Cohen in Trump world any more. Michael Cohen is on his own when it comes to how people inside Trump world feels about him tonight, Anderson.
COOPER: Jim Acosta, thank you very much. Quite a quote there.
Michael Cohen today admitted he lied to the House and Senate Intelligence Committees. Democratic Congressman Jim Himes is a member of the House panel. He joins us now.
Congressman, thanks for being with us. I just want to remind our viewers, we're showing on the side of the
screen the place, the airport where we expect the president to be arriving any moment. If the president does make comments, I may have to jump in, Congressman, and let -- we want to hear what the president has to say if he chose to.
So, Congressman, I want to start with tonight's breaking news. This idea of a $50 million penthouse to Putin as part of -- kind of floated as part of a way to get this Trump Tower project happening in Moscow. Does that sound remotely appropriate to you? I mean, is that a bribe? How do you see that?
REP. JIM HIMES (D-CT), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Well, I guess we have to get the facts behind that. Obviously, if a penthouse -- I don't know the details oh of the story, because it's just breaking. But if a very valuable penthouse, anything of value is offered to a foreign leader in the context of you asking for that leader's help on something, yes, I think that sure looks like a bribe. Now, the story is just breaking, let's see what happens.
You know, stepping back away to the news that we heard earlier today, there's been a great deal made about whether it's illegal for the president, when he's the nominee, he's not yet president of the United States, to have Michael Cohen working with a foreign government on his behalf. Look, the details will need to come out as to whether there was any quid pro quo, whether there was anything that looked like a bribe, that may not be technically illegal. But my God, I mean, in terms of inappropriate, that one of our chief antagonists around the world would have the ability to dangle something in front of the incoming president, you know, is just profoundly disturbing.
COOPER: In terms of Cohen news, were you at all aware before today that Michael Cohen had lied to your committee?
HIMES: We weren't aware of that, and, you know, obviously, Mueller has been very quiet. He has not shared with the Intelligence Committee on either side of the Capitol where he is, wisely, I think. But no, we were not aware.
And what's really intriguing about this, two things. One, we're at a point where it looks like everybody around the president has been consistently lying. It started with Flynn, Papadopoulos, Manafort, of course. I guess that feels like a million years ago, even though I think it was just two days ago, and now, Cohen. So, everybody is lying.
And the other thing that's intriguing about that, Anderson, is that when Cohen gave that testimony to the committee, and I can't get into the details of transcripts that have yet to be released, but none of us thought, well, this is inconsistent with other descriptions we've heard about the president's dealings in Russia. So, that raises the question about whether there's other people who, if transcripts were out there, it would turn out that they too were lying to Congress.
COOPER: We should point out, we just saw Air Force One touching down in Buenos Aires with President Trump on board for the G20 Summit, a very different summit then what it seemed like the president was planning for initially. They canceled the meeting obviously with Vladimir Putin and have scaled back other meetings, as well.
When Donald Trump, Jr., Congressman, testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee, he was asked when the Trump Moscow deal had fizzled, and he said, quote, it sort of faded away, I believe, at the end of '14. And then he went on to say, quote, certainly not '16.
So, if Michael Cohen is telling the truth, which Mueller team says he is, it would seem to indicate Donald Trump, Jr. also didn't tell Congress the truth.
HIMES: Well, it looks that way. And, by the way, it sort of looks like the president wasn't telling the truth when he told the American people he had no deals with Russia. He certainly -- and I understand the technicality of whether a deal is something that is actually signed or ongoing negotiations, as Michael Cohen was clearly engaged in, but since Donald Trump is one of those people, remember, that's of Donald Trump, Jr., of the famous meeting in Trump Tower. He's clearly a key point of contact. I would think that he's having a rough day today, because Michael Cohen would presumably know the answer to the question about whether Don Jr. knew about these ongoing negotiations when he told, as you pointed out, Congress that he did not.
[20:15:09] COOPER: Right. We know that Michael Cohen has spent some 70 hours talking to Mueller's team. Excuse me, lastly, there are transcripts of Cohen and others testifying before the House Intelligence Committee. They have yet to be turned over to the special counsel.
Do you know why that is, and will they be given to Robert Mueller?
HIMES: Well, the Democrats on the Intelligence Committee made a motion that all of the transcripts be released to the special counsel. That could happen instantly, because the issue is classification, and the special counsel's office has the ability to review classified documents. But that motion was turned down by the Republican majority.
So subsequently, we did vote to release them to the public. We are, I think, pretty close to having them ready. We had to remove the personally identifiable information, and, of course, all those transcripts or some of them had to undergo a declassification process. But they will be made public soon.
And, of course, when the Democrats have the majority in the Congress, we would have the power to convey them directly to the special counsel.
COOPER: Yes. Congressman Himes, I appreciate your time.
A lot to cover as we wait for the president to step off of Air Force One and see if he makes any public comments. I want to read another piece of the Michael Cohen charging document because this speaks to what candidate Trump knew about the business dealings with Russia and when he knew it. I'm quoting now, it says, quote, the Moscow project was discussed
multiple times within the company and did not end in January of 2016. Cohen discussed the status and progress of the Moscow project with individual one, which we know is Donald Trump, on more than three occasions, Cohen claimed to the committee, and he briefed family members of individual one within the company about the project.
All right. Joining us as we wait to see if the president makes any comments is CNN legal analysts Jeffrey Toobin and Asha Rangappa. Jeffrey is a former federal prosecutor. She's a former FBI special agent. Also, "Weekly Standard" editor Rich Lowry --
RICH LOWRY, EDITOR, NATIONAL REVIEW: No.
LOWRY: The another magazine, Anderson, please? 'National Review".
COOPER: Sorry about that.
Democratic strategist Paul Begala who doesn't read "National Review" --
PAUL BEGALA, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: But still a Democrat. But I actually do read the "National Review".
COOPER: Rich, let me start out with you since I fumbled that so badly. Is this, in your opinion, a big deal?
LOWRY: Yes. I mean, but I think you have to separate the ethics from the legal jeopardy potentially to the president. The ethics are just horrible. I mean, there's no defense for it. It's gross. It's widely inappropriate.
COOPER: Are you saying the ethics are the idea of dangling $50 million apartment or just --
LOWRY: The whole deal, pursuing this business deal --
COOPER: While running.
LOWRY: Right, in the capital of a foreign adversary of the United States, in any sort of such real estate deal, even here in New York City, is going to enmesh you in all sorts of political authorities and all sorts of -- maybe not particularly seemly side deals and whatnot. So it's completely inappropriate, and not to have formed the public of this is appalling and it was a conflict of interest.
But in terms of the legal jeopardy to the president, there's no indication that he directed Cohen to lie. Now, perhaps the beauty of Michael Cohen to Donald Trump is he never had to tell him to lie, because it's habit and his job was basically to lie for him. And at least according to Rudy Giuliani, we'll learn more eventually, Trump's answers in his questions to Mueller accord or don't contradict Cohen's latest version of events.
But in all this sort of investigations, both sides always have to remind themselves just because something is unethical doesn't mean it's illegal. Just because it's legal, it doesn't mean it's ethical.
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: You know, today is the first day I actually thought Donald Trump might not finish his term in office.
TOOBIN: I mean, I think this thing is enormous. And the whole week, you think about what the position is of Donald Trump in the Trump camp about all these things. His position is, for six months, Michael Cohen never discussed with him that he was negotiating for Moscow Trump Tower. It's preposterous. I mean, it's just preposterous.
Second, he says that Roger Stone never discussed with him that he was negotiating with WikiLeaks and talking about WikiLeaks, even though both Donald Trump and Roger Stone were obsessed with WikiLeaks. But they stoke repeatedly and never discussed it.
Third, Don Jr. never discussed with his father the plans for the Trump Tower meeting in June of 2016.
COOPER: And never discussed the -- what he learned in the e-mail, which was that Russia is supporting his father's election.
TOOBIN: Which all of these are complementary to each other, and all of the stories that Trump is telling about them are preposterous.
And, you know, when you combine them all, the question becomes when do Republicans start to turn on Trump? Because that's the only thing that is going to get Trump out of office, it's not going to be Democrats.
[20:20:01] And it's certainly not now, but there may be a point where it's too much.
COOPER: All right. We are going to quickly take a break because we want to be back when he gets off the plane. See if he makes any comments. We'll continue with our group also.
Also, later, Bob Woodward joins us. We'll be right back.
COOPER: Looking live at the airport in Buenos Aires. We're waiting to see President Trump as he gets off Air Force One, possibly to see if he makes any remarks. There's a lot he could talk about. Clearly, Michael Cohen is off the president's Christmas list, unless there's a special spot under the tree for a weak person and not a very smart person. There's the president and the first lady, a bit of a break from what
the president usually says about former senior advisers who gotten caught in Robert Mueller's net.
[20:25:04] Ordinarily, he says he barely knew them or that they were only with me a very short time. He said that stuff to Michael Cohen in the past, but Cohen certainly doesn't fit either of those descriptions.
Again, there you see the president arriving for G20.
Paul, it's interesting, this G20, it's very different than I think what the White House initially or what we have traditionally seen a president do at the meeting like this.
BEGALA: And they truncated the time the president is going to be there anyway.
COOPER: You said they Trumpcated or --
BEGALA: They slimmed it down, which is also a verb we think about with our president.
But I think that's a mistake, although I think this guy is different. He's having a presidential panic attack. You know, with the Starr investigation going on, I was working with Bill Clinton, he fund the work therapeutic. He would lose himself in the work. He could compartmentalize.
And so, he would be -- the best thing for Clinton, if he was upset about the Starr investigation, sure, we're going to have a two-day conference of children's health care, he would love that and dive into it. And I do worry, honestly for our country, that the president -- this president is too distracted, he's too obsessed, he's having a meltdown, and he can't seem to get his head off of that. It was wise to cancel the meeting with Putin, because I don't think he's up for it.
COOPER: Asha, just from a legal standpoint, and again, we're watching to see if the president does make any comments. He doesn't like he's going to, but we'll see. He often sometimes will just go towards reporters or answer to yelled questions.
From a legal standpoint, what today really stood out to you?
ASHA RANGAPPA, FORMER FBI SPECIAL AGENT : Well, it stood out to me that Mueller has a lot of information that he's able to corroborate exactly, for example, this timeline about the Moscow -- Trump Tower Moscow. That means I think he has information to corroborate a number of other things. And this puts other people in jeopardy.
It also stood out to me, and we haven't discussed this today, that the Acting Attorney General Whitaker wasn't able to stop this. And you know, this was the big fear, and I was one of the Whitaker optimists that said I think this is too big, and the wheels of justice are rolling, and he won't be able to stop it. I think that's been, at least this has been shown to be true.
I worry that the president is going to become even more unhinged if he was banking on that being the brakes. And it's not happening.
COOPER: I want to hear your thoughts, Paul, today, but one of the interesting things, about the documents that Mueller put out, he put a lot of details this document that he didn't need to actually put in. And there's some belief that there's a concern is a report ever going to be made public. This is a way for Mueller, and correct me if I'm wrong, to put in details that might end up in a report that gets shelved or isn't seen by the public. It allows him to get information into the public sphere.
BEGALA: Right, and we're going to know, we are. I think through the speaking indictments, real lawyers call them, and through other mechanisms, the Democrats will soon control the House of Representatives, they'll have subpoena power, and interesting, most Americans, even defenders of Donald Trump, want the report made public.
It is our report. We are paying for it. He is our president. He's our employee.
And I think that covering it up would be a catastrophe. It will be impossible. I just don't think --
COOPER: Do you agree with what Jeff said, he was saying this is the first day he actually thought the president might not complete his term, which --
BEGALA: Not there yet. But the defenses he has, that is all he has to do is hold 34 senators, and he's president. And I do believe, and I know this from talking to Democratic leaders in the House, they will impeach Donald Trump when Republicans ask him to and not before. You cannot make this partisan at the takeoff, it would be partisan at the landing.
So, my strong view, and I'm not a Trump fan, is that constitutionally, neither party should undertake impeachment unless there's some sort of bipartisan vote.
TOOBIN: I heard that from Nancy Pelosi. I heard that from Jerry Nadler, who's going to be the chairman of the Judiciary Committee.
There's another thing about today that I think is very important, is that it establishes a motive for something that was a mystery, which was, why was Donald Trump so solicitous of Vladimir Putin? Why, throughout the campaign, was he always saying such nice things about him? Someone the Republican Party historically has not liked? Why did they change the platform to take a more pro-Russia position on Putin -- on Ukraine?
The answer is, I think, because there was money to be made with Russia. He was negotiating for a business deal with Putin's Russia. So, the way you make money in Putin's Russia is to make nice with Putin. That's what was going on here, that this was about business. And I think that's a chilling thought, because this guy was running
for president of the United States. No one knew he was negotiating while the campaign was going, the primary campaign. But it make -- the pieces fit together.
COOPER: Well, we should point out, our reporting does not say that Michael Cohen -- that Donald Trump knew about like the $50 million apartment idea per se, that was something, according to Felix Sater, a business partner, that was sort of a marketing idea. But it's not clear if Donald Trump knew about that.
[20:30:00] That's right. But he certainly knew about the project, and the money to be made was on the project, not in giving Vladamir Putin the $50 million condo.
The money was -- and you know, I went to Moscow. I reported this. He's been going to Moscow since the '80s, Donald Trump has, trying to build Trump Tower Moscow. This is an obsession of his. He went in the '80s. He went in the '90s. He did Miss Universe in 2013.
COOPER: We should also point out, the friend -- being friends with Vladamir Putin has been something of an obsession. I mean he was -- during the Miss Universe thing, he was tweeting, "Wow, I wonder if Putin is going to come. I wonder if he'll be my best friend."
CHALIAN: Why? Because he wanted to make money there, that's why. And it all comes -- the pieces fit together that way.
ASHA RANGAPPA, FORMER FBI SPECIAL AGENT: To the point, and just -- let's remember that that same summer, even though by this point the deal might not have been in progress any more, when the FBI had a security briefing with the Trump campaign, and the Clinton campaign to say, look, Russia is trying to get in and infiltrate and affect this election, let us know if there's anything going on that might be relevant, they did not say a word.
COOPER: We're going to take a break, but thanks everybody.
Coming up, once again, echoes of Watergate. His agitation, which we've been talking about, his insistence that everyone is just out to get him because that's the obvious parallels and behavior, how does it compare overall to Nixon's moment in time? We'll talk to Bob Woodward who is, of course, has been there for all of it. He'll join me next at all the days' news. We'll be right back.
COOPER: The President is under pressure lashing out his agitation allegedly on the rise. Our President insisting over and over again he didn't do anything wrong as the walls and some opinions -- some people's opinion seem to be closing in. I'm speaking, of course, not just about Donald Trump, but Richard Nixon and Watergate.
[20:35:09] We all know what happened there and we know it largely do the entrapping reporting of Woodward and Bernstein. Bob Woodward joins me tonight, a legendary journalist, associate editor at "The Washington Post" and author, of course, of "Fear: Trump in the White House."
Bob, there's so much to talk to you about. I just want to begin with this reporting about the Trump Tower penthouse in Moscow, the idea that -- or an idea floated within the Trump organization, according to Felix Sater, who was involved with the deal, that it would be earmarked as a gift for Vladamir Putin. Does that make sense to you given, again, the President's insistence that he had no deals with Russia?
BOB WOODWARD, ASSOCIATE EDITOR, WASHINGTON POST: Maybe somebody was working for the cartoonist, because you can see the cartoon of a Trump Tower in Moscow with Putin at the top waving to everybody. I don't know. And spending two years on the Trump White House and Trump -- all kinds of things bounce around.
I think that Jeffrey Toobin is a little ahead of himself by saying now this is so significant. It's the first time that he can see the end of the Trump presidency. But I think there are two important components that need to be emphasized.
First, it's not what Cohen has corrected about the plan to build a Trump Tower in Moscow and so forth. That's meaningful, but what really is significant is that Cohen is now Mueller's witness.
And you talk to people who know and work in this world to get the number one lawyer for the person that you really trying to -- that you're aiming at is worth getting 10 other witnesses. Not only that, but Cohen is angry. He's turned on Trump. He's known to make tape recordings. As a witness, he may not be that significant, but if he has tapes and documents, big deal.
COOPER: We also know, not only is it Michael Cohen, also there is the chief financial officer who is not as well known, but Mueller has -- there's a deal made that may be limited, but there's a deal with him as well.
WOODWARD: Yes. And it sends the message to everyone in the Trump organization or who was there. You know, we've got Trump's lawyer helping us and so that opens up potentially the flood gates. I think in all of this, the other significant element is what Mueller has done.
It's very strategic to make the change of testimony unwise to the Senate and House Intelligence Committees. As you well know, they've kind of -- those committees have been ridiculed and belittled somewhat. And for Mueller to come in and say no, this is a big deal to lie to the Senate and the House, kind of gives him some support up on the hill, which he may need very soon.
COOPER: A number of legal, you know, legal scholars that they have pointed out the level of detail that Mueller put in the documents that were submitted in this. Do you believe it's a way for Mueller to get information in the public domain that might otherwise just be in a report that the future of which, whether it's published or whether who gets to see it is in question? WOODWARD: Yes, that may be part of the strategy. But I think he's sending a message to Trump, people close to Trump, and to the Senate and the House. And he made the Senate and the House players in a significant way today, and their investigations, though they've been substantial, have all of the emphasis, all of the discussion and mystery is, well, what's Mueller going to do and can he deliver?
So, what you see is absent in the Trump operation in the Trump White House is some sort of planning and thinking how can we help by doing certain things. And Mueller clearly in this case has found a way.
WOODWARD: Trump -- I mean, we are -- we're going through a crisis of governing now, let's not side step it.
[20:40:05] And Trump continually does things and says things that are not in his own interest.
COOPER: Yes. I'm wondering, you know, having been so, you know, in the epicenter and leading the way during a reporting on the Nixon administration, how did the Nixon administration, how did President Nixon deal with the pressure. You know, people are saying that President Trump is filling the walls coming in, things like that, that's up for debate. How did Nixon, though, handle that sort of pressure? And how did it impact his leadership?
WOODWARD: Well, at the end, it got pretty bad. The emotional toll was very dramatic and understandably. But, again, if you go back to the Nixon case in Watergate, you need evidence of high quality. You need tapes. You need documents. You need witnesses like John Dean.
If you listen to those tapes and go through what Dean testified to, it wasn't just, "Oh, yes, we talked about something." It was Dean saying in the tape, proving in one meeting, President Nixon authorized, ordered, paying blackmail money to the Watergate burglars 12 times in just a single meeting. And the power of that led to Nixon's demise.
Does Mueller have something like that or is he headed in that direction? I think Jeff Toobin jumped a little ahead of the facts.
COOPER: Bob Woodward, it's always great to have you on. Thank you so much.
WOODWARD: Thank you.
COOPER: After the Cohen news broke today, the President announced on Twitter that he decided not to meet with Vladamir Putin at the G-20 summit after all. He said it's for reasons other than the Cohen plea. We'll look at that ahead.
[20:45:51] COOPER: After the news broke about Michael Cohen pleading guilty to lying to Congress about the proposed Trump Tower project in Moscow, the President announced on Twitter that he wouldn't be meeting with Vladamir Putin at the G-20 summit after all. He just landed in Buenos Aires for that.
And supposedly, not the reason the meeting was canceled from the President's Twitter, "Based on the fact that the ships and sailors have not been returned to Ukraine from Russia, I've decided it would be best for all parties concerned to cancel my previously scheduled meeting in Argentina with President Vladamir Putin. I look forward to a meaningful summit again as soon as the situation is resolved."
Joining me now is former adviser to four presidents and current CNN Senior Political Analyst, David Gergen, and "Washington Post" columnist and CNN Global Affairs Analyst, Max Boot, author of the new book, "The Corrosion of Conservatism: Why I left the Right."
David, do you buy the President's explanation that it's about Ukrainian sailors?
DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: No. The Ukrainian sailor has already been out there for a few days when he decided he was going to go, it's clearly, you know, what happened on the plane after he heard about his lawyer, Cohen.
You know, Michelle Kosinski of CNN reported earlier today that on the plane he was talking to White House aides, he was in a terrible mood, he was spooked and completely distracted. That I think drove the decision.
It's also true, I think, that they saw this be a PR disaster to be meeting with Putin at the very time his relationships with Russia are in question. He's much better off to keep his distance.
COOPER: Right, particularly with this story of a $50 million penthouse offer.
COOPER: You know, the visual of him --
GERGEN: Just $50 million, like real money?
COOPER: Max, you know, it's not just the meeting with Putin. Basically, a number of the President's meetings have now been scale back to kind of just shorter meetings now with -- also South Korea.
MAX BOOT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Well, he's obviously in a foul mood for very good reason because just in the last few days I think the case for both collusion with Russia and the case for obstruction of justice have both been strengthened. And obviously, the collusion case has gotten stronger, now that Michael Cohen has admitted to this plan to build the Trump Tower in Moscow, even in 2016.
But, of course, you know, just yesterday, you had Trump saying that he was not going to take a pardon off the table with Manafort. We learned that Manafort also had an arrangement with Trump's lawyers to feed them information. All of this stuff would strengthen a case for obstruction of justice so you can see why the President seems to be freaking out on Twitter and in person in the last few days.
COOPER: David, I mean it certainly seems like this President does not like this kind of summits. I don't know -- I'm not exactly sure why that is. I don't know if they're boring or if he's not well liked or not -- he feels disrespected. How important, though, are these? Because I think a lot of people say, "Oh, look, OK, another G-20. It's a photo-op." How important can it possibly be?
GERGEN: It's important for a sense of continuity in foreign policy and in the world. I think that canceling these meetings, moving things around the way, you know, just to underscores how much the investigation is now interfering with the conduct of his presidency. You know, he's absorbed by it. These meetings are -- this meeting with Putin was going to be important, but the meeting with South Korea was extremely important.
GERGEN: There's going to be a short little thing and he's got a short little meeting with Turkey, which was very important after Khashoggi. Perhaps the other thing is they've gone into this whole thing at 6s and 7s over the meeting with China, which is the single most important meeting he's going to have.
They've had two different stories coming out. You know, one -- on the same day you had "Wall Street" -- you have "The New York Times" and "The Wall Street" -- "Washington Post" and the "Financial Times" all reporting their approach to China differently.
You know, one side saying that he's going there because he thinks he get a deal. On the other side saying, "No, Larry Kudlow says we'll never going to get a deal." It's -- you know, I can't remember an administration going into a big international meeting at somewhat at 6s and 7s. Max might, but I can't.
COOPER: Max, do you agree with David on that? I mean, have you seen anything like this?
BOOT: No. I've never seen a president who is so inept at the representational part of presidency, the part where he's supposed to represent the entire country. I think one of the promise here is that Donald Trump really views himself as being the president of about 40 percent of Americans, and he's most comfortable at rallies with his acolytes cheering him on.
[20:50:06] He does not like any kind of peer to peer conversations with other world leaders unless they're being completely sycophantic to him as some of the dictators like the king of Saudi Arabia has been for example in the past.
So I think he shies away from these kinds of uncomfortable confrontations and it's probably just as well, for example, that he is not meeting with Putin because you can imagine another president reading Putin the Riot Act and telling him to knock it off.
And that if he doesn't stop filing international law and stop aggressing against Ukraine, he is going to face massive consequences that you can't imagine Donald Trump actually doing that because he -- among other reasons, he shies away from confrontation in person. And, of course, he also seems to be hopelessly compromised in his dealings with Russia and Putin.
COOPER: David, also, just any meeting with Putin now besides, you know, what broke today, it just going to remind people and bring back the fact that we have no idea what he discussed with Vladimir Putin one on one behind closed doors in Helsinki really.
GERGEN: Exactly. And we don't know what he, you know, he's got the private telephone. He's obviously talking to Putin from time to time. The White House I'm sure is not telling us when he makes all the phone calls he does and there's nothing wrong with that, except when there is so much suspicion regarding it that you just have to wonder what are they plotting out. Is he telling Vladimir sort of, "Hey, I got -- here's what I'm handling," and so forth and so on.
We're not going to know. I'm not sure we're ever going to know. But I just think it cast a huge shadow over the kind of foreign policy. And other nations notice this and they will take advantage of us. If they see a weakness in America, if they see us as distracted as he is distracted now, that's when they begin to misbehave. And they say -- and they get in and they do things to you when you're not watching very carefully and it makes a foreign policy that is completely unpredictable.
COOPER: You know --
BOOT: And I think --
COOPER: Go ahead, Max.
BOOT: -- just to David's point, I mean I think what you saw just a few days ago and to see it as of with Russia firing on Ukrainian vessels and seizing those vessels was a test of American will. And they found the will very much lacking because Donald Trump, he will attack allied leaders like Justin Trudeau or Angela Merkel. He will attack American leaders like Maxine Waters or Adam Schiff, but he will not say one negative word about Putin.
And basically if Putin is reading the tea leaves (ph) here even though he may be disappointed not to get this meeting at the G-20, the signal that he's getting back is that Donald Trump is not going to do very much about this aggression and so he's basically getting a green light to do more of the same.
GERGEN: Right. That's exactly right.
COOPER: And I think Paul Begala is raising a really very important point, which when he was working for Bill Clinton, Clinton was able to, you know, with all the drama that was going on, he actually sought out policy meetings and things because he could immerse himself in it and it would take his mind off of all the drama swirling around him. This president seems unable to do that. GERGEN: I agree with that. And most presidents are pretty good at compartmentalizing and they can move from, you know, one very rough session to something that's very, you know, in American tradition.
Now, I saw Nixon fire one of his big cabinet secretary's walk out the door and do -- and light the Christmas tree and do it all with great dignity just like, what, you know. Here's this really angry guy cursing out his secretary, walked through the door and he's suddenly a different person.
COOPER: Yes, not this time. David Gergen, thank you. Max Boot, as well.
I want to check in with Chris to see what he is working on for "Cuomo Prime Time" at the top of the hour. Chris?
CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Going deep, Anderson. I've been making phone calls all day, have spoken to people on all sides of this story. The problem is, as it always is, no two tell the same story. The closer you get to the President, the more precious a commodity the truth becomes.
But now we Bob Mueller putting his name on a document saying he believes Michael Cohen, President Trump's former lawyer, about something important. And at a minimum, it goes to exposing a pattern of lying to the American people. We're going to get into that to show the different avenues that the probe could take from here and what the exposure is to the presidency.
COOPER: You know, Chris, I was thinking about how rare it used to be for reporters to use the word lie in reference to the president and now it's like, you know, it's just every day.
CUOMO: Don't want to over use it, obviously. You are a good example of somebody who uses it judiciously, but at the same time you can't ignore it when you see something that is the willful and wonton deception on a material fact, you have to call it out, because the relevance of truth, the value of truth matters right now and you have to call it out.
COOPER: Yes, yes. All right, Chris, about five minutes from now, we'll see you. Appreciate it.
Up next, we're going to look ahead to what the President could face tomorrow. We'll be back.
[20:58:56] COOPER: Well, at the end of what could be a very important day for his presidency and after a flight during which he was said according to a source to be in a terrible mood, was spooked and completely distracted, in the sources words, President Trump and the First Lady have arrived safely in Buenos Aires.
And however much the Michael Cohen plea is weighing on him, well, it didn't show tonight at least walking down the steps of Air Force One. He got straight into the limousine, didn't speak to reporters, didn't make any further news tonight. We'll see if he tweets a little bit later on tonight.
Might not be such a bad thing that he didn't make so much news today, it's worth remembering after all how much it's potentially at stake in the next two days in Argentina. Tomorrow is the day to wish the president well, whoever he or she is.
We will, of course, have complete coverage for the summit here and across the network throughout the day tomorrow, if you watch that.
Finally a reminder, don't miss "Full Circle," our daily interactive newscast on Facebook. It's new. You get to vote on the stories that we cover, get all the details. Watch it weeknights at 6:25 p.m. Eastern at facebook.com/andersoncooperfullcircle. It's a fun show to do. It's a lot of -- it's probably a bigger variety of stories than we do a lot of times now on the evening program.
The news continues right now. I want to hand it over to Chris for "Cuomo Prime Time." Chris?