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Michael Cohen Now Admits Talks over Trump Moscow Tower Continued Well into 2016 Campaign; Trump Cancels Putin Meeting, Citing Ukraine Crises Not; U.S. Life Expectancy Drops as Overdose Deaths, Suicides Rise. Aired 3:30-4p ET

Aired November 29, 2018 - 15:30   ET

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


[15:30:00] ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: So, you've got the plans for Trump Tower Moscow, that was discussed as late as June 2016. That same month there was the Trump Tower meeting with Don Jr. A month later you have the RNC, the Republican Party, that changed their platform in a way that was seen as favoring Russia. And then, Brooke, just a few days later, WikiLeaks dumped their first big trove of hacked Democratic e-mails.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: Thank you for putting it all out on the big board just for us to initially take all of it in and the timeline of all of this. Alex, thank you so much.

CNN has learned that Michael Cohen is telling the special counsel about much more than just this project in Moscow. We'll talk live with one of the people who knows Mueller best. And we'll ask him the significance of the plea deal coming just a week after the President's written answers.

[15:35:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANDERSON: Now that Michael Cohen has pleaded guilty as part of the special counsel Robert Mueller's Russian investigation, now what? What does it mean for President Trump and the direction of the investigation?

With me now, Michael Zeldin, Robert Mueller's former special assistant at the Department of Justice and Mark Mazzetti, Washington investigative correspondent for "The New York Times." So, gentlemen, thank you so much for jumping on with me. And Michael, to you first. Because do know Robert Mueller, you've worked so closely with him. You've taken all of this in today. What is your gut reaction to today's news?

MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, knowing Mueller and watching the way he's proceeded over the past 18 months, we know for sure that lying to him is a big mistake. And that's what Michael Cohen did according to these pleadings. And if anybody else in the Trump ecosystem, Jared Kushner, or Don Jr. or anybody else for that matter, did the same, then they will be in the same position as Michael Cohen.

As to whether or not the lies that have been represented in this information implicate the President, I don't yet see that connection. They've said in here that Michael Cohen lied and that he actually informed the individual one, President Trump presumably, about information but it doesn't give us dates. It doesn't say after January when the President said it was the last time, he heard about it. It doesn't say specifically in here that between January and June when this thing really ended the President was informed about that.

So, unless there's evidence that has yet to be released publicly or that I'm missing, it doesn't yet take me to the President being a public liar in a provable abuse of office sense or a collusive relationship between the Trump organization or the Trump campaigns and the Russians. It's not a good day as a public relations matter but as a legal matter, which is my focus, I don't yet see where this is terribly incriminating of the President.

BALDWIN: I welcome that perspective. And Mark, what do you think of what Michael is saying? You know, we were chatting a second ago. You say there's a larger issue at stake.

MARK MAZZETTI, WASHINGTON INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Well, I think Michael's right. There's not specifics in the court documents that cite exactly where the President might be in legal peril in terms of actually lying. We have to also layer it, though, on this other issue, which is that the President just submitted written answers to the Mueller team about this and other issues. So, the question is whether anything that he and his lawyers have submitted to Mueller that might be at odds with what Michael Cohen said in terms of the timetable, in terms of when these discussions began and ended. That's where he could be in potential legal trouble.

In terms of the issue of -- that Michael raised about was there a conspiracy or a collusive relationship, yes, it doesn't get us directly to that issue. Today's developments don't necessarily. Although, it's just another sort of interesting series of events occurring during this critical period of time. We now know that these discussions about a Trump Tower Moscow were going on during these early months of 2016 up until the point really where President Trump secured the Republican nomination.

At that time according to previous Mueller indictments, we know that the Russians were really escalating their effort to sabotage the campaign. There was the hacking. There was the outreach to Trump officials, campaign officials. And so, during this critical period of time we now know that there was a business deal being negotiated. And that's just another thing in the mix in terms of the questions about Trump and his relationship with Russians.

ZELDIN: Right. And that's what I called the public relations side of it. But, Brooke, may I just interject one thing, which Mark raises, which is the written answers of the President.

BALDWIN: That's where I was going to go next. If I may just interject and I want you to say your piece but do you think there is any strategy from Mueller in having Trump, you know, submit those written answers last week and now, bam, this plea deal happens today?

ZELDIN: I don't think so. I mean, it's possible. Similarly, it's possible that they didn't give a -- prevent Manafort from coordinating with Trump after he pleaded guilty in his agreement like they did with Gates. It's possible in some sort of overarching strategy are here that I'm not aware of.

But it would seem to me that if there was evidence in the documents that President Trump turned over to the Mueller about the continuing relationship between Cohen and the Russians about the Moscow Tower.

[15:40:00] That those would be included in the answers that they provided. If it's not included in the answers, it probably means or could mean that there is no written documentation of any communications between Cohen and the President around this period of January to June. Where it's presumably the time that the President may have misrepresented himself.

So, I'm not sure that the absence of anything in the written questions would be a reflection of the President lying as much as corroborative of the President's lack of knowledge of the communications that Cohen was having with Sadder and the Russians but not having relayed that to the President directly. So, there's a lot that we don't know but again is something that we still have to wait and see.

BALDWIN: I think that's the moral of the story every time we talk about Bob Mueller. There's a lot he knows. There's a lot we don't know. Right? We can only parse through what we know publicly. But what we do know is that the crux of the matter today deals with we're talking about this Moscow project, Mark, and this is Trump's finances specifically. And so, we all remember, you know, Trump sort of drew this line in the sand and said, well, you can't get into my finances, that's my red line. Right? And that is precisely what they're digging into now.

MAZZETTI: Right. Potentially they are. We now know that, you know, Cohen is working directly with the special counsel's office. Michael Cohen is the long-time lawyer and fixer for President Trump, knows a great deal about the intricacies of Trump organization. And stepping back for a second, you recall that after Michael Cohen pled guilty in New York for the other issue, the payments before the election of hush money, it was very clear he wanted to speak to the special counsel. His lawyer all but said it on TV, that he has information to offer the special counsel on these other issues. So, what we don't know yet is what else he might have to offer. But there's potentially a great deal given his position in the Trump organization.

ZELDIN: That's right. And that's right. And, Brooke, to Mark's point --

BALDWIN: Quickly, Michael.

ZELDIN: -- which is, these pleadings only need to set out what they need to prove Cohen to be a liar. They don't require expansive evidence of Trump's collusive relationship. And if they have it, you know, we'll wait and see when they deliver it.

BALDWIN: We will see. Michael and Mark thank you guys so much.

ZELDIN: Thank you.

BALDWIN: Just ahead here, President Trump reverses course, now saying he will not meet with President Putin on the sidelines of the G-20 this weekend. But not because of today's news about Michael Cohen.

[15:45:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BALDWIN: More breaking news. As tensions between Ukraine and Russia threaten to boil over, President Trump has now cancelled his meeting with Russia's President Vladimir Putin. It was supposed to happen this weekend at the G-20 summit in Argentina. President Trump says this new Russian standoff with Ukraine is the reason why he cancelled the sideline. So, CNN senior international correspondent, Nick Payton Walsh, is in Ukraine. And Nick, how is this decision that the President will no longer meet with Putin an opportunity to push him on what's happened? How is that being received where you are?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I have to say I think there was initial consternation the meeting was even contemplated. Frankly, given the fact we've seen a further escalation of Russian military maneuvers into Ukrainian territory last Sunday when they rammed Ukrainian vessels and arrested 24 sailors. So now in fact, partially being transferred to Moscow to be held until January. Remarkable in those circumstances given how Barack Obama led the world in sanctions against Russia after the invasion of Crimea that Donald Trump would consider having a cozy meeting with Vladimir Putin.

Well eventually after days of pressure and days of consultation and it's fair to say condemning Russian aggression, he decided to call it off. Petro Poroshenko, the Ukrainian President, initially institutes martial law across Ukraine. We haven't seen enormous differences in daily life as a result, frankly. But a slight increase in anxiety to what it might mean in the future.

He today though tweets back to Donald Trump after he put those tweets out that you just read. Saying, this is how great leaders act. Now of course, Ukraine is in a difficult bind, so the military really isn't strong enough. We saw ourselves today down at the Sea of Azov where all of this initially began Sunday. They only got the military themselves to hold the Russians back if they were to face a full-on military offensive. But they really need international solidarity on their side.

The more they had copious amounts of that from Europe and other allies. They're already lacking I think from Donald Trump the sort of leader of the free world, so to speak, some extraordinarily tough language. We still haven't had that. We've had the cancellation of the meeting. But really, it's made little difference on the ground here in Ukraine.

People are exhausted of this war that has been going on for four years. It has piqued just in the last few days in terms of international attention. But the casualties have been coming every week regardless. I think the broad question they have to ask themselves is, the national response to this recent sort of flourishing of Moscow aggression has been, I have to say at best, patchy and that may have emboldened those in the Kremlin who think perhaps that Donald Trump's confused position right now gives them a window to start exploring more adventurous options in the near abroad -- Brooke.

BALDWIN: Patchy, so says Nick Payton Walsh with the Ukrainian perspective there. I appreciate it. With me now, Kim Dozier, CNN global affairs analyst, on just the analysis of all of this. We saw the President, looking forward to this meeting as he was walking on the south lawn this morning.

[15:50:00] Fast forward to the tweets. Nope, cancelling my meeting with Putin over Ukraine. To what do you attribute this abrupt change?

KIMBERLY DOZIER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Look, it would have been awkward to be meeting with the Russian President right after the Michael Cohen announcement. But even putting that aside, it's as if he was creeping up to this. From the Ukrainian perspective, the ambassador in Washington, D.C. had reached out to me. They feel a mixture of both fear, and they also see an opportunity to get more assistance. In that they've already gotten $250 million worth of assistance including what they consider some lethal assistance. The U.S. calls it defensive. But in the pipeline to be delivered, but most of that is land-based.

Now they see a naval threat, and you've got the Ukrainian President saying Putin wants to gobble up our whole country, and the ambassador listed to me a number of things that would help them offset this new threat to their country. From the Congressional perspective, they say, yes, look, we might be open to giving this stuff to them, but from the administration official perspective, they say we've got to measure this against what they have already given them, already promised them and how this might escalate tensions with Russia.

BALDWIN: How quickly on the Russia side, how is the Kremlin responding to this change?

DOZIER: The Kremlin is calling this whole incident just a criminal incident, and they are dismissing the Ukrainian request as just more attempts to ramp up the situation.

BALDWIN: No, but on the President cancelling the meeting.

DOZIER: Oh, on the President cancelling the meeting. Muted response so far.

BALDWIN: How does Putin see this?

DOZIER: How does Putin see this? You know, again, for him he's going to get that cat who swallowed the canary opportunity to look like he's in charge. He has just pushed again, expanded the boundaries of Russia in the direction of Ukraine, and now he isn't going to have the U.S. President taking him to task publicly. Trump has turned down that opportunity.

BALDWIN: Fareed Zakaria was sitting in your chair a second ago, and he was saying it's a missed opportunity -- DOZIER: Exactly.

BALDWIN: -- to push Putin over what they have done with Ukraine. Kimberly Dozier, good to see you. Thank you very much.

DOZIER: Thank you.

BALDWIN: Coming up next, it is said to be a wake-up call. A drop in the U.S. life expectancy, the first time it's fallen three years in a row since before World War I. What's to blame for this troubling trend?

[15:55:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BALDWIN: Just in. German Chancellor Angela Merkel's plane was forced to turn around and make an unscheduled landing. This is happening as she was on her way to the G-20 summit in Argentina. We're told the problem was a, quote, electric systems failure. More on that ahead.

Meantime, some alarming numbers today from the Center for Disease Control. More than 70,000 people died from drug overdoses in the U.S. last year. And that is driving down the life expectancy of Americans. Let me show you what the CDC found. The average American life span dropped by more than -- more than a month from 2016 to 2017. That's the second decline in the past three years, and the CDC says this is a wake-up call.

This comes as the number of drug overdose deaths surged by more than 10 percent in 2017 with three states hit the hardest. It's West Virginia, Ohio and Pennsylvania. And CNN chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta is here to talk about this report. I woke up, and I was -- it's awful to read that it's been this bad since before World War I, and it's because of drug overdoses and suicides?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and it is remarkable. I mean, the richest country in the world, spends the most on healthcare than any country in the world, and life expectancy going in the wrong direction. It's been a concern for some time. But you know, the last time this really happened, you know, there was a world war. There was an infectious disease, the pandemic spreading around the world, so what's driving it now is a very different situation as you point out.

I think if you look at these numbers with regard to drug overdoses and suicides, those are what are really fueling these premature deaths. As you pointed out, Brooke, they've gone up by roughly 10 percent, these drug overdose deaths. Since 1999, Brooke, suicides have increased 30 percent in this country. It's pretty remarkable. Almost 4 percent just over the last year alone. What is the underlying problem here? Too many medications and too much stress in the society. People are self-medicating. Whatever it may be, despite how much we are investing in healthcare, we don't have what we should show for it in terms of life expectancy.

BALDWIN: Quickly. Those three states where it's worse, the worst? Why? GUPTA: Biggest thing really seems to be the synthetic opioids.

You've heard of these, alfentanils, the carfentanils, people who are addicted to these medications. And all of a sudden, a more powerful synthetic opioid comes on to the market. It happens, Brooke, people think they are getting their usual stuff, whatever it might be. And something that can be ten times more powerful, even 100 times more powerful is what they get. That causes people to overdose and sometimes to die. That seems to be what's driving it mostly in those states. But again, this is the country as a whole. Despite this problem that may be somewhat localized, it is now big enough so it's affecting the whole country.

BALDWIN: But it's all of us. Dr. Sanjay Gupta, thank you so much. Again, the CDC calls it a wake-up call for all of us. Thanks for being with me. I'm Brooke Baldwin. "THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER" starts now.