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Special Counsel Says Michael Cohen is Telling Truth, Trump Says He's Lying; Giuliani Responds to Michael Cohen's Assertions on Trump; Trump Says He'll No Longer Meet with Putin at G-20; Sen. Bob Menendez Responds to Michael Cohen & Trump Cancelling Putin Meeting. Aired 11:30-12p ET

Aired November 29, 2018 - 11:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[11:30:00] KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: BOLDUAN: We've said it over and over again that it is a crime. It is really, still, a crime.

Dana, I did just get this handed to me. Pamela Brown received a statement from Rudy Giuliani, the -- obviously the attorney for President Trump. Let me just read it to you in full, everybody. Michael Cohen -- OK. He wrote it as if he was a breaking news note. The quote is, breaking news alert from Rudy Giuliani. Michael Cohen is a liar. It's no surprise that Cohen lied to Congress. He's a proven liar who is doing everything he can to get out of a long-term prison sentence for serious crimes of bank and tax fraud that had nothing to do with the Trump Organization. It's important to understand the documents the special counsel is using to show that Cohen used to lie to Congress were voluntarily disclosed by the Trump Organization because there was nothing to hide. It's hardly coincidental that special counsel once again files a charge just as the president is leaving for a meeting with world leaders at the G-20 summit in Argentina. The special counsel did the same thing as the president was leaving for a world a summit in Helsinki. With regard to the hotel proposal in Moscow, the president has been completely open and transparent."

There's a lot there. Grab what you will.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, what matters is not what the president and his attorneys think about Michael Cohen's credibility. What matters is what the special counsel thinks and, more importantly, what the special counsel believes he and his team can prove about Michael Cohen's credibility in a court of law or, in the short-term, as this investigation winds its way wherever it's going to head. That's all that matters. Sure, maybe they gave the Trump Organization documents voluntarily. But again, what he hasn't answered and we're trying to get the answer too from somebody on Team Trump is what did the president say in his written answers to Robert Mueller on this very subject. If it doesn't, you know, match or comport with what Cohen has said, the president has a problem.

BOLDUAN: Gloria, this last statement, the president's been completely open and transparent with regard to the hotel proposal in Moscow, that doesn't -- I don't know, does it give you much?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: No. It's clear the president is sticking to the original story. It seems to me that, you know, that Michael Cohen and Donald Trump, at some point -- and I remember, at one point, Michael Cohen did go to Mar-a-Lago. I'm not sure what they discussed there, and this was after the Stormy Daniels thing, so it might have been about Stormy, who knows if it was about Stormy. Who knows if it was about this.

But, you know, it seems to me that what Donald Trump is saying is what Michael Cohen was saying back in September of 2017 when the letter of intent was leaked and that, you know, this was -- this was something -- you know, we were going to do business and who knew we were going to win and Trump was publicly saying, I've never -- I'm not contemplating business with Russia, even though he was, and saying, you know, this never went anywhere, so what is the big deal about it? And now we are learning that, in fact, it was continued to be pursued and that Michael Cohen, according to the documents we've looked at today, was the one who was continuing to pursue it.

I think the question we now have to ask is, did he continue to pursue it with the candidate's knowledge at the time. And again, to Dana's point, what did Trump tell the special counsel about this letter of intent, which we're presuming that the special counsel asked him about?

BASH: Kate, can I just underscore what Gloria is saying here about her reporting to -- that you were sold a bag of goods back in the fall of 2017 by people around Michael Cohen. And the whole reason for that, their strategy was, to protect the president or to protect something. Strategy in lying to Congress, which is a crime, was to protect the president. Why was he trying so hard to protect the president? Why did he not want -- why did he go to these lengths to prevent the public and Congress and the prosecutor from knowing, and the public, from knowing why the president was doing what he was doing or what else was happening vis-a-vis Trump, his organization and Russia during the campaign? That's the big open question. Maybe Robert Mueller has the answer. But that's fascinating.

BOLDUAN: Especially in the context and especially in the context of how the president is talking about it today, which was, it doesn't matter if I did or didn't, what I knew and didn't know doesn't matter because it's all good, because I thought I might've lost so I needed to have opportunities and options available. That was one of the things he said today.

Guys, stick with me.

[11:34:49] We do have much more to come, including the reaction coming from Capitol Hill to Michael Cohen pleading guilty, what it says now about Donald Trump. The top Democrat on a key Senate committee joining me live, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BOLDUAN: We have some more breaking news coming in. President Trump announcing via Twitter a change in plans. No longer meeting with President Vladimir Putin in the coming days.

Let's get back over to the White House. Kaitlan Collins is there for us.

Kaitlan, what are we learning now?

[11:40:00] KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Kate, just when the president was leaving the White House, he said that meeting with Putin was probably still on. But now, on Twitter, he has canceled it, writing that, "Based on the fact that the ships and sailors have not been returned to Ukraine from Russia, I have decided it would be best for all parties concerned to cancel my previously scheduled meeting in Argentina with President Vladimir Putin." He adds, "I look forward to a meaningful summit again as soon as the situation is resolved."

Of course, the president was still scheduled to meet with him until this happened, but right, when he was leaving the White House, he told reporters that he had received a final report essentially briefing him on the situation happening since the Russians seized those three Ukrainian vessels. And he said he was going to be reading that while he was on Marine One and Air Force One and then make a decision from there. And clearly he has made the decision to cancel this meeting with the Russian president in Argentina.

Now that meeting was already going to have a lot of scrutiny on it before today happened, but now with all of the news about Michael Cohen and the president now deciding to cancel this meeting, there will be questions raised about why he's canceling this now, now that this Michael Cohen news has broken, because before in the days before this and despite all of the news reports about what was happening between Russia and the Ukraine, the White House had offered a pretty muted response. When President Trump was asked about it earlier this week, he said he wasn't pleased, but he didn't go any further than that and he didn't condemn what Russia had done as other world leaders around the world had done.

So now the strong reaction is coming from the president now that he is on Air Force One on his way to Argentina -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: Kaitlan, thank you so much.

Joining me now is Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey. He's the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

I hope you would look down as your Twitter feed, Senator, because of what we just learned from the president that he's announced that he's canceling this meeting with Putin, not because of news on Russian investigation, but because of the clash between Ukraine and Russian war ships. Are you happy to hear that?

SEN. BOB MENENDEZ, (D), NEW JERSEY: No. I would have liked to have him meet Putin and challenge Putin, to find his spine as it relates to the international order as well as the cyberattacks on our own democracy. I don't want to see another Helsinki performance. This was his opportunity to redeem himself, stand up for American values, stand up for the rule of international law and stand up for our own national security interests, and he had that opportunity and instead he's abdicating it. BOLDUAN: Do you think, though, if he had met there would be anything

different than Helsinki, because what has changed since then, right?

MENENDEZ: Well, that's a good test, Kate. We needed to see. Just avoiding the meeting doesn't speak to all the issues that are out there, it doesn't speak to the recent violations of Ukrainian sovereignty, violations on the high sea, it doesn't speak to the continuous cyberattacks against the United States, doesn't speak to this latest revelation of economic interests in Russia. And so he avoids that by not having a meeting instead of confronting Putin. And it is ironic that this president cannot find his spine to confront Vladimir Putin but can challenge the closest allies of the United States has across the globe.

BOLDUAN: I do want to ask you about the other news regarding Russia that is just coming out. I want to get your reaction to this disclosure in court today, the surprise appearance by Michael Cohen, that the president was discussing a real estate deal with Russia while he was the presumptive Republican nominee, the discussions going much further into 2016 than had previously been known, according to Michael Cohen?

MENENDEZ: It says a lot of things. Number one, there's a lot of people around President Trump who are willing to lie for him it seems, and the reason to do that is only to protect him from potentially challenging or legal issues. Number two is the tentacles into Russia continue to grow as we find out more information. And number three, this once again speaks loudly as to why the president should release all of his tax returns so that we can understand the degree of interests that he has in Russia, and if that's affecting his foreign policy views as it relates to Russia. As I've said, he never seems to be able to stand up to Vladimir Putin.

BOLDUAN: Michael Cohen admits today that he misled, he made misstatements to Congress. He misled your colleagues on the Intelligence Committee, he said. Does this make his statements today any less reliable for you?

MENENDEZ: Does it make it what?

BOLDUAN: Less reliable for you? What are you saying today about him telling the truth now about when Donald Trump knew about these Russia deals and how much he knew?

MENENDEZ: No, I think he's obviously -- he tells -- he says this truth with consequences with it. He's admitting to what now is the truth and that truth brings him consequences. He could continue to maintain he didn't and try to avoid the consequences or litigate them out. He's actually going ahead and facing consequences as a result of finally telling the truth. But this is a pattern that we see among everybody who's surrounded the president during his campaign. And you only lie, at the end of the day, if you're trying to protect the principle, in this case now, the president, then the candidate, because there's something to protect him from.

[11:45:25] BOLDUAN: Donald Trump this morning says that Michael Cohen is today the liar, calling him a weak person. The president has many times said that he has zero ties, zero investments in Russia. This does somewhat fly in the face of all that is coming out now. But does that mean that the president anything illegal, continues to remain a question. It's not a crime to lie to the press, unfortunately.

MENENDEZ: No, it's not a -- but as the president of the United States, you set a standard for the world that you don't lie to the press. We don't know. That's why Robert Mueller's investigation is so important. We will ultimately know all of the facts because he seems to have more of the facts and more people plead guilty and are found guilty, at the end of the day. But what we do know is there are far more tentacles into Russia than had previously been disclosed. And so one has a legitimate question as to whether, number one, he does have economic interests there that are affecting his judgment, whether oligarchs have invested in his business and putting pressure on the president and, lastly, does all of this affect the way in which he responds to Russia which seems to be incredibly benign as a time in which Putin is violating the international order left and right. And Putin only understands strength. And so long as he continues to do what he's done, for example, in Ukraine, in taking those ships, arresting the sailors, violating the international law on the high seas, he will continue to march forward in this regard and be a risk to the national interest and security of the United States.

BOLDUAN: Senator Bob Menendez, thank you so much for coming in. Senator, I appreciate your time.

MENENDEZ: Good to be with you.

We have much more on -- I mean, everything is breaking news today. We'll be right back with that.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:51:45] BOLDUAN: Just moments ago, President Trump announcing via Twitter that he is abruptly cancelling his planned meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin as he's on his way to the G-20 summit in Argentina. What's the reaction from Argentina?

CNN's senior White House correspondent, Jeff Zeleny, is live from Buenos Aires.

Jeff, a surprise to everybody, considering what the president said on the way to Air Force One. What are you hearing there?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Kate, it was. The president just said less than an hour ago, it's time for a good meeting. A very good time to have a meeting. Then he was tweeting as he was flying from Washington to Argentina, a long flight, tweeting out that he is now not having that meeting.

Let's take a look at what he said: "Based on the fact that the ships and sailors have not been returned to Ukraine from Russia, I have decided it would be best for all parties concerned to cancel my previously scheduled meeting in Argentina with President Vladimir Putin. I look forward to a meaningful summit again as soon as the situation is resolved."

Kate, very unusual for a, again, an hour earlier to say a very good time to have the meeting, now to abruptly cancel I t. You get the sense that the president is either, A, trying to change the headlines from the Michael Cohen guilty plea and his knowledge of the Russia meeting, or the president also -- we should point out, Vladimir Putin is going to be here at this G-20 summit and the president is as well, so they will still cross paths. What it means though is apparently they will not have the formal meeting on Saturday.

Again, Kate, this is very fluid and could always change. The president is trying to change the subject as he flies down here on Air Force One, clearly watching all of this -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: Great point, Jeff.

Thank you so much.

My panel is back with me.

Dana, I want to ask you what Jeff was talking about, cancelling this meeting, he said it was about the clashes between Ukraine and Russia warships. It is surprising that that's a decision he announces now. Just the statements coming out of the White House.

BASH: And it was written in a formal way that those of us who have been watching Donald Trump's tweets for particularly the last almost two years since he has been president for the most part when he is doing his own tweeting and he has to be carefully crafted. It was very carefully crafted to point the reason at Ukraine. It was interesting what Bob Menendez said, the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee. He should have kept the meeting and if this was the actual issue, the reason why he canceled it, he should have pushed Vladimir Putin on Ukraine. No question there are a lot of Republicans who agree with Bob Menendez. At the end of the day, he saw what happened in Helsinki. I know from talking to people who have been talking to the president about that meeting that they have been telling him there's no good politically with meeting with Vladimir Putin and with this Michael Cohen situation, that was weighing on him to the nth degree. Politics and diplomacy, when you're commander-in- chief, dealing with an incredibly important adversary like Russia, are two very different things.

[11:55:20] BOLDUAN: Two very different things that need to be handled delicately, and that's a tough one.

Gloria, to Dana's point, this comes after President Trump has already been on a tear for 24 some ought hours about the Russia investigation before any of this stuff with Michael Cohen came out this morning. When you look at the tweets that he has been sending out, I wonder, we heard from the president, but I wonder what this will then do. What this all means and I just don't know.

BORGER: Look, as you point out, the president seems to be growing more and more frantic day by day comparing the Mueller investigation to Joe McCarthy and the rogue investigators and on and on and on. What we do know and of course we are all piecing all of this together, but we do know he finished answering questions in writing. We do know from reports that Manafort's attorney has been talking to the White House about generally what's been going on in his part of the woods here after their negotiations fell apart. And things seem to have just been spinning and spinning and spinning since that time. There's nothing wrong with Manafort's attorney talking to the White House, but his client is a cooperator or was a cooperator and attorneys have raised questions about that. What do they know now? What do the president's attorneys know? And what does the president know about the areas that Bob Mueller intends to pursue? What he learned this morning is that there's an area involving -- and Michael Cohen and concerning this Trump Tower Moscow, because now the two men are telling divergent stories. I think you should expect that this spinning will continue and that the president could grow more frantic because it's possible that he sees the walls coming down around him. We just don't know at this point because we don't know what Mueller knows. And that's the big question here.

BOLDUAN: And maybe to that point, Elie and Asha, what could be the most unsettling statement is they were leaving the courthouse this morning, for Donald Trump's team, is when he said he has been cooperating and will continue to cooperate. It's not over. That's the statement they are making.

ELIE HONIG, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: This is just the starting line. This is the point where the southern district and Mueller said we are ready and banking on you. The indictments and the changes and whatever come out of this is going to follow. As Gloria said, you wish the president of the United States had a better poker face rather than a public meltdown. Why he is panicking is, first, everything Mueller said in his public filings has come to be. Mueller is batting a thousand. We are starting to get at the why here. People asked, why is the president so indebted to Russia. Financially, as we learned today, and he probably believed that Russia could help him with the election --

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: Financially, even if it didn't happen?

HONIG: The fact that it didn't happen doesn't matter. This information says he's begging the Russian government for approval. So he was trying to curry favor with them.

ASHA RANGAPPA, CNN LEGAL & NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Yes. This would be how an intelligence operation would work. You figure out vulnerabilities and cast out the net and reel them in. That's what they're doing with this Trump Tower deal. Then maybe, if that goes astray because he gets the nomination, remember, that's around the same time the Trump Tower meeting happens with the offer for dirt. You pulled him in a little bit more. When all of that is secret, that becomes your leverage over the person.

BOLDUAN: If it's assumed that Donald Trump's statement is in contrast and conflict with what Michael Cohen is putting out, does that make the case that likely Donald Trump would be asked to speak to, in person, the special counsel?

RANGAPPA: He might be asked to come, but we have come back to square one, I don't have to.

BOLDUAN: OK.

RANGAPPA: And I'm going to leave it where my written answers are and gamble on that.

BOLDUAN: What's the thing you are watching for now?

HONIG: I want to see the next round of indictments and I want to see if people get a hit, indicted on WikiLeaks. I think Stone and Corsi are coming soon and other big news.

BOLDUAN: Let us see.

Great to see you guys. Thank you so very much.

Gloria, Dana, thanks guys. I appreciate it.

Much more on all this breaking news coming up right now with John King and "INSIDE POLITICS."