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Trump's Ex-Attorney Michael Cohen says he Kept Trump Apprised of Trump Tower Moscow Project beyond January 2016. Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired November 29, 2018 - 10:30   ET

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


[10:30:00]

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REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA), RANKING MEMBER, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: The president misled the country about his business dealings and that the Russians were, apparently, attempting to gain financial leverage over the potential president of the United States. This just underscores how important it is for us to finish the investigation, to determine what financial links the Russians have to the president and the Trump organization, to determine whether they continue to hold leverage, so clearly we have a lot more work to be done and just as clearly, the president has misled the country about his financial dealings with the Russians.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN ANCHOR: So how important is it at this juncture this development?

SCHIFF: I think it's very important. It shows that certainly Mr. Cohen is providing deep cooperation with the special counsel even as Mr. Manafort is not. What more Mr. Cohen has to say, we don't know. We will be very interested at the appropriate time in inviting Mr. Cohen to come back to our committee to share any additional information and incites to clarify his prior testimony before our committee. So there's a lot more that warrants investigation here.

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JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Adam Schiff there making two points, one it gets to possible lying by the president but also possible Russian attempts to hold leverage over the president as he was the presumptive nominee.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: And he'll have the power to subpoena more people here - from more people when he chairs that committee come January.

SCIUTTO: Absolutely. Shan Wu who represented a defendant prior in this, Rick Gates, the deputy -- former deputy chairman of the Trump campaign, long legal history. Shan, your reaction to what you've heard today.

SHAN WU, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: This is really a huge development and in just sort of skimming over this information, I was particularly struck by paragraph seven, in particular, 7a, in which it references the fact that there had been the multiple discussions with individual one, of course, but also with family members who were inside the company. So that's -- I think, very, very important and then also in 7b sub-1, it talks about Cohen having had discussions about the business travel to Moscow with a senior campaign official, so of course, curious who that might be, could it be Paul Manafort?

HARLOW: Very good points. Stay with us. Evan Perez joins us again. Evan, let's just talk about the significance of the timing here because timing always matters. It matters that Cohen lied about the timing of discussions about this potential project in Moscow and the significance of the timing of Cohen's guilty plea coming after, after, the president submitted his written answers to Mueller's questions.

WU: Well, that's right, Poppy. Look, I think, there was a great deal of paranoia close to the president in the week before Thanksgiving, that's when he was preparing to send in his written answers to the Mueller team, those questions that the special counsel had sent in some weeks earlier. And there was paranoia simply because there were a couple things that came out including the fact that Jerome Corsi appeared to be close to a plea agreement that named the president, they were mad about that. Julian Assange was revealed to be under a sealed indictment. And so what the paranoia in the Trump team was simply that Mueller must have something up his sleeve and we don't know what it is and we're about to send in some answers to these questions and now we see that sometimes you know paranoia is for a reason, because it turns out that they were working on this and now we see that the president now has responded to the Mueller questions.

The question is, were his answers about this Trump Tower project, were those answers matching the earlier statements from Michael Cohen or do they match the current statements from Michael Cohen? Clearly, the special counsel and the prosecutors of the Justice Department believe the new Michael Cohen's version of events and if that conflicts with what the president says, that bodes very badly for the president. This is a bad, no good, terrible day for the president, I can tell you, and I think you can see why they were very worried about what Mueller had up its sleeve.

SCIUTTO: And Jeffrey Toobin made a point that this document indicates there's more than just Michael Cohen's testimony to back up his version of the story. There were e-mails, et cetera. Bob Mueller, his team, they're certainly a team that crosses its T's and dots, that's the ties when they come forward with a case like this. I just want to go back to Asha Rangappa on a point raised earlier just to complete the thought here.

The president will attack Michael Cohen's credibility, no question. Cohen's answer to that is listen, yes, I lied before and now I want to make it right. This is my duty to family, to country. In effect, he wants to be the John Dean who famously Nixon White House lawyer who then turned states evident and served prison time. He wants to be the John Dean of the story, is that right?

ASHA RANGAPPA, CNN LEGAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Yes. And you know whether he succeeds in that remains to be seen but the proof is in the pudding when Mueller can use his information and if he continues to cooperate and Mueller finds his information valuable, that's going to be what's telling.

[10:35:02] Now, remember Cohen is the guy who knows where the bodies are buried, OK, metaphorically speaking, of course. And beyond this, just think about what he might be able to verify or not verify. You know Cohen is mentioned in the Steele dossier as someone who traveled to Prague to payoff Russian hackers. Now, maybe that's true, maybe it's not (CROSSTALK) but he could, you know, dispute -- he could start to, you know, cross out things that are true and not true that are still in speculation.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: And remember, that Prague trip is something that Michael Cohen has denied publicly in the most vehement terms. I've never been to Prague. It's all made up. Is that operative that statement still? I mean that's obviously a question that we'd want answered. But remember, this just shows that it's all connected because the "WikiLeaks" effort which is what Prague relates to was another attempt by Russia to ingratiate itself with the Trump campaign.

Here, you have financial interests of the president or the candidate Trump and his family in Russia, and the question that hovers over all of this that is just so important, which is, was Donald Trump doing the nation's business with Russia or is he doing his family's personal financial business with Russia?

HARLOW: And even if a deal doesn't come to fruition, it is still important that the discussions about a potential deal that can be financial beneficial to the then presumptive nominee is being talked about.

TOOBIN: Exactly. It deals with the question of motive.

RANGAPPA: Right.

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TOOBIN: Why is he solicitous of Trump -- of Putin?

SCIUTTO: Listen. We have a lot more to discuss. We're waiting for the president's comments on all this. We're going to take a short break and be right back.

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[10:41:27] HARLOW: All right. We're back with our breaking news.

SCIUTTO: That's right. We have Pamela Brown with new information about what the special counsel says about Michael Cohen's cooperation with the investigation. Pam, what are you hearing?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Right. The special counsel saying today that Michael Cohen has been cooperating in this investigation and notably the special counsel says it is prepared to tell the court the nature and extent of that cooperation, according to a plea agreement that was released today by the special counsel on the heels of Michael Cohen pleading guilty to given false information to Congress. This is significant on a number of levels. Prior to this, the understanding was that there was not cooperation agreement between Michael Cohen, the president's former attorney, and special counsel.

But now we are learning based on what special counsel is saying. There is a plea agreement. That indicates that special counsel finds at least some of the information Cohen is providing to be of value and it also is the first indication of how the special counsel views Michael Cohen, that the special counsel views him as an important person in this investigation. We now know a focus has been on Trump Tower Moscow. Other areas special counsel has been looking at that Michael Cohen could be helpful with is the Trump Tower meeting with Don Jr. and Russians and Paul Manafort. The president has said he doesn't know anything about that. But Michael Cohen is someone who would been privy to information surrounding that meeting. And also, "WikiLeaks," whether anyone on the campaign had advanced knowledge of "WikiLeaks" dumping John Podesta's emails, these are all things Robert Mueller is interested in and now we're finding out that he could be asking Cohen about these things and we could learn more.

HARLOW: OK. We're going to hear from the president in seconds. Michael Cohen said this in court and I quote, "I made these statements" the false statements - "I made these statements to be consistent with individual one, that is the president's political messaging and to be loyal to individual one."

Here's the president moments ago.

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DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: So Michael Cohen has made many statements to the House as I said 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. It was a well-known project. It was during the early part of '16 and I guess even before that. It lasted a short period of time. I didn't do the project. I decided not to do the project, so I didn't do it. So we're not talking doing a project. We're talking about not doing a project.

Michael Cohen, what he's doing is he was convicted, I guess, you'll have to put it into legal terms, but he was convicted with a fairly long-term sentence on things totally unrelated to the Trump organization. Having to do with mortgages and having to do with cheating the IRS, perhaps, a lot of different things. I don't know exactly, but he was convicted of various things unrelated to us. 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. We were thinking about building a building. I guess we had in a form. It was an option. I don't know what you'd call it. We decided -- I decided ultimately not to do it.

[10:45:02] There would have been nothing wrong if I did do it. If did do it, there would have been nothing wrong. That was my business.

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE) So he's lying very simply to get a reduced sentence, OK?

(INAUDBLE)

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SCIUTTO: All right. He's back.

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TRUMP: It doesn't mean I'm not allowed to do business. I was doing a lot of different things when I was running. After I won, obviously, I don't to business, one from January 20th. But more importantly, which is the following year. But I ran a business. In fact, I often joked about the fact that I was the only person that campaigned and simultaneously ran a business, but that was -- that was a project that we didn't do. I didn't do. That was a project that wasn't done for a lot of reasons. Number one is that I was really not -- not that I had to do it, but I was focused on running for president. I wanted that to be my primary focus, not running or building a building.

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE)

TRUMP: Well, this was a deal that didn't happen. That was no deal. I mean, if you look -- this was an option. I guess -- I don't know if I -- I want to be very specific. To my way of thinking, it was an option that I decided not to do.

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE)

TRUMP: So if you look, we really didn't have -- excuse me. Excuse me. Excuse me.

This was an option in a form but here's very simple, we had a position to possibly do a deal, to build a building of some kind in Moscow. I decided not to do it. The primary reason, there could have been other reasons, but the primary reason was very simple, I was focused on running for president. 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 gotten back into the business and why should I lose lots of opportunities.

So here's the story. Go back and look at the paper that Michael Cohen wrote before he testified in the House and/or Senate. It talked about his position. What he's trying to do, because he's a weak person and not a very smart person, what he's trying to do is end -- and it's very simple, he's got himself a big prison sentence and he's trying to get a much lesser prison sentence by making up a story.

Now here's the thing, even if he was right, it doesn't matter, because I was allowed to do whatever I wanted during the campaign. I was running my business, a lot of different things during the campaign. So, very simply, Michael Cohen is lying and he's trying to get a reduced sentence for things that have nothing to do with me. Now let me go a step further. I think you should go back to -- I think it was January, it was just reported very well by Catherine Herridge who's a terrific reporter on Fox. She talks about a letter that he signed, I don't even remember it, and it specifically talks about this deal. This deal was a very public deal. Everybody knows about this deal. I wasn't trying to hide anything, OK?

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE)

TRUMP: I cannot understand you.

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE)

TRUMP: We're going to talk about it but we have a lot of things to talk about, Jeff?

QUESTION: You're going into a summit currently, what is your intent about a trade deal with China? What do you expect to say to Mr. Xi?

TRUMP: I think we're very close to doing something with China, but I don't know that I want to do it, because what we have right now is billions and billions of dollars coming into the United States in the form of tariffs or taxes, so I really don't know, but I will tell you that, I think China wants to make a deal. I'm open to making a deal, but frankly, I like the deal we have right now.

QUESTION: Are you going to meet with - (INAUDIBLE)

TRUMP: I probably will be meeting with President Putin. We haven't terminated that meeting. I was thinking about it, but we haven't. They'd like to have it.

QUESTION: What are you going to tell him?

TRUMP: I think it's a very good time to have the meeting. I'm getting a full report on the plane as to what happened with respect to that and that will determine what I'm going to be saying. Thank you.

QUESTION: You said you were getting a full report on Tuesday. Did you get that report and what did it say?

TRUMP: Well, I have a couple of reports. We're getting a finalized report. Are you talking about the Russia situation with the ship and the Ukraine?

We're getting a finalized report. I'm going to have it on the plane sometime today.

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE)

QUESTION: Why are you meeting with the crown prince?

TRUMP: It just wasn't set up.

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE) TRUMP: It only wasn't set up. I mean I would have met with him but we didn't set that one up. I'm meeting with President Xi, which is a very important meeting, happened to do with (INAUDIBLE). And as you know I'm making about three or four meets. We just didn't have time.

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE)

TRUMP: I'm going to bring it up, yes.

QUESTION: Mr. President?

TRUMP: I don't hear you. You see that, you've got a helicopter.

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE)

TRUMP: No, the question was asked yesterday about pardons with respect to Paul Manafort who it's very sad what's happened to Paul, the way he's being treated. I've never seen anyone treated so poorly. But question was asked to me by "The New York Post" and I said no, I have not offered any pardons and I think they asked or whatever, would you? I said I'm not taking anything off the table. That was done as a question from "The New York Post."

QUESTION: Did you tell Michael Cohen what to tell Bob Mueller?

QUESTION: 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.

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE)

TRUMP: No, not at all. Not at all. I'm not worried at all about him. You just take a look at his written document. Go back, take a look at what he wrote in I think January, he has a written statement and that's the fact. Yes.

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE)

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE) We don't want the European Union to be like Trump's America. What do you want to tell them?

TRUMP: I don't know what you're -- you can't with the helicopter.

A possible shutdown if we don't get the wall money. It's very possible. We're in negotiation. If we don't get border security, possible shutdown.

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE) Mr. President?

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SCIUTTO: You're looking at the president there, his reaction to these explosive developments today with Michael Cohen, a man who worked for him for many years saying in effect that the president was not truthful about his business ties in Russia in the months leading up to and during, in fact, the 2016 presidential campaign.

Paul Callan, if I can just ask you because the president's -- part of the president's defense there about this Trump Tower Moscow project is that - well, the deal didn't happen. It was an option. He's sort of trying to have it both ways. It almost sounds like their defense of the Trump Tower meeting, right? We never got the dirt on Hillary Clinton so therefore it's not relevant from a legal perspective, is that a credible defense?

PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: No. I think it's a problematic defense and I'm betting his attorneys are pulling what's left of their hair out as they listen to him, make these statements because he's all over the place. As you've noticed, he starts out by saying Cohen is a liar, none of this is true, the Trump Tower project in Moscow ended in January of 2016, which, by the way, is what Cohen told Congress in 2017 after the president had been sworn in -

SCIUTTO: And now he says it was a lie.

CALLAN: Yes. So and why is important? It's important for two reasons. Number one, during the summer of 2016 before he was sworn in, before he was elected, they were discussing the Republicans, the plank on how Russia would be treated, about how Ukraine would be treated at the same time this project is obviously sitting on the table.

SCIUTTO: It's a great point because it presents the possibility, at least or the appearance of a conflict of interest or quid pro quo, were these business dealings offered as a sweetener as they were trying to get a friendlier platform.

HARLOW: Right. And it's not just that the Republican Party pushed to change the platform to water down U.S. assistance to defend Ukraine from Russian aggression. It's a Trump campaign officials stepped in to block a provision about arming Ukraine to fight Russia-backed militia, Jeffrey Toobin, at the exact same time that these business discussions with Moscow were going on.

TOOBIN: Right. And I think, you know, we need to sort out -- and really respond fairly to what the president is saying here because at one level he's saying, look I'm a real estate developer, I was a private citizen running for president, I'm allowed to continue my business. I wasn't lying about continuing my business. All of that is true. The problem is, is that he was not saying during the campaign, oh, I'm negotiating with Russian -- essentially the Russian government for a business deal in Moscow at the same time I am trying to be solicitous in saying wonderful things about Vladimir Putin as part of my campaign.

[10:55:03] SCIUTTO: We have Pamela Brown -

HARLOW: We have to cut you short.

SCIUTTO: -- with some new reporting as well. Pamela?

BROWN: Well, just from covering the White House and this Mueller probe, what stands out to me is what the president said that Michael Cohen is lying to reduce his sentence. Well, what's clear here is that Bob Mueller, the special counsel doesn't think he's lying with this new version where he says that Donald Trump actually was briefed several times on the Trump Tower Moscow project and that there were discussions for him to go to Russia. But what also this does is this gives you a window into potentially what the president answered to the questions from Bob Mueller as it pertains to Trump Tower Moscow.

The president seemed to be indicating today that he doesn't agree with the version of events that Michael Cohen laid out today, that Bob Mueller clearly agrees with. As we know, the president and his team responded to questions including the ones about the Trump Tower Moscow turned those answers in last week, so they are locked in to those answers and they really went in blind as it pertains to what Cohen may have been telling the special counsel because there was no legal defense agreement. And so what Bob Mueller will be looking at now is how the responses from the president and his team align with what they now believe to be the true story based on what Michael Cohen said. I think that is significant. The timing is significant. It appears that Robert Mueller's team wanted to wait for this to happen until they received the responses from the president.

HARLOW: And still just minutes ago you heard the president say, I will probably meet with Vladimir Putin, this is a quote, "very good time to have the meeting." What will he say to Vladimir Putin at that meeting?

Evan Perez is with us as well with a little bit more reporting on this. What can you tell us, Evan?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Poppy, one of the things if you look at these new statements from Michael Cohen, what it really crystallizes is that the president's red line which is his business, it's been crossed, right? This means the prosecutors now have information that, according to Michael Cohen, the Trump business, the Trump organization was part of whatever conspiracy they believe was happening here, that even as the president was running for election in 2016 that they were working on this project in Moscow much longer than the president has said. And, by the way, the president made some comments just now that said in which he said that everybody knew about this project. That's not quite true. I think it became public as part of this investigation, but it wasn't known in 2016 that this was happening. It wasn't known publicly. So that's the issue here. The president's business is now front and center in this investigation. It's his red line and it has been crossed.

SCIUTTO: His red line, Jeffrey Toobin, Asha, does it matter that the president has set that red line?

TOOBIN: Well it matters in the sense that he implicitly threatened to fire Mueller if that line was crossed.

HARLOW: A couple of times I believe in that interview. He said yes, this is the red line.

RANGAPPA: This is directly related to the question of Russian election interference and here's why. Not just because the lack of transparency did not provide people with, you know full information on why he was taking certain steps, but that at every step by keeping it secret, Russia has had leverage over him, has had essentially compromise. And every lie told to keep it secret has been even more leverage. This is a national security issue and that is what Mueller is investigating.

SCIUTTO: Good point. That's a secret personal information is part of compromise by definition.

RANGAPPA: Exactly.

HARLOW: And the --

CALLAN: It continues by the way to have leverage now going into future meetings because you have to - I mean meetings with Moscow, there are two parties to that. There's a Moscow side and a U.S. side, what does Putin have? What people are in the Soviet Union who can actually ratify Cohen's claims here?

HARLOW: Correct.

CALLAN: So Putin has a lot of leverage to use against the president in future negotiations.

HARLOW: So who oversees the Mueller probe now? The new acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker has been very - he's criticized the probe. Secondly, what did the president retweet last night, a meme with Rod Rosenstein who had previously overseen the probe behind bars saying he should have never hired the special counsel.

SCIUTTO: It also happens the Senate Republicans blocked even a vote. It was a bipartisan proposal on the Senate floor to pass legislation to protect Robert Mueller, didn't even get a vote on the Senate floor. That timing will be interesting in part as we watched the president's response.

RANGAPPA: And you know I think that this is -- its going to be interesting to see how Trump responds to the fact that Whitaker hasn't been able to stop any of this if that's what he expected. The wheels of justice have continued to turn.

HARLOW: There you go.

SCIUTTO: Mueller is a tough adversary, right? Listen, thanks to all of you, so much to digest these past hours.

HARLOW: Yes. Again, the breaking news continues. Thank you for being with us. I'm Poppy Harlow.

SCIUTTO: And I'm Jim Scuitto. "At This Hour" with our colleague Kate Bolduan continues our breaking coverage right now.