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Cohen Admits He Lied To Congress To Cover Up For Trump And Scuttle The Russia Investigation; Trump Abruptly Cancels Planned Putin Meeting At G20 After Cohen Admits He Lied About Trump's Business With Russia. Aired 5-6p ET
Aired November 29, 2018 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Rene Marsh, thank you so much. Our coverage on CNN continues right now.
[17:00:10] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news. Trump's fixer flips. In a stunning development, President Trump's longtime personal lawyer shows up in federal court, pleading guilty to lying to Congress about a project to build a Trump Tower in Moscow, all as part of a plea agreement with the special counsel, Robert Mueller.
Someone is lying. Mueller says he believes Cohen's story even as President Trump refutes Cohen's claims, calling him a liar and a weak person, trying to lessen the sentence. But tonight, Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani says the president's recollection is the same as Cohen's. So who's telling the truth?
Mueller's timing. The special counsel waited until after he had the president's written responses to his questions in hand and until the president was leaving for the G-20 summit to drop his bombshell. Why?
And Putin meeting off. Just an hour after saying it was a great time to meet with the Russia president, Vladimir Putin, President Trump tweets that the meeting at the G-20 summit is off, citing rising tension between Russia and Ukraine. Is that the real reason?
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: We're following breaking news: the bombshell revelation that, despite his denials, Donald Trump did have significant business dealings with Russia during the 2016 presidential campaign even after he secured the Republican nomination. That news springing from the guilty plea by the president's former personal attorney and fixer, Michael Cohen.
He's now admitting he lied to the U.S. Congress about what the president knew about the Trump Tower Moscow project and when he knew it, out of loyalty to Mr. Trump and to protect him.
I'll speak about the breaking news with Congressman Mike Turner of the House Intelligence and Armed Services Committees. And our correspondents, analysts and specialists are also standing by. First, let's get details on the breaking news. Joining us right now,
our CNN justice correspondent Jessica Schneider.
Jessica, we now know that Cohen talked to the Mueller team for 70 hours, 70 hours, and a well-placed source tells me that Mueller now knows everything.
JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, Wolf. And all of that information coming over a number of interactions. Seventy hours of discussion with Michael Cohen over the course of seven meetings dating from September to just last week.
Cohen says he initially gave false statements to protect the president from any fallout in this ongoing Russia probe, but tonight, we now know Cohen has been cooperating extensively with the special counsel.
SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Tonight the president's former fixer, Michael Cohen, once again flipping on the president in federal court, revealing Trump, while campaigning to become president of the United States, knew more about a deal to build a Trump Tower in Moscow than Cohen has previously acknowledged.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Cohen has cooperated. Mr. Cohen will continue to cooperate.
SCHNEIDER: Cohen pled guilty in federal court today, admitting to misleading congressional investigators, saying he lied to be consistent with the president's political messaging and out of loyalty to the president.
Cohen has already met with investigators seven times since August, the most recent meeting just last week. One source saying the details about Trump Tower Moscow were just one of the many topics involving the president that Cohen divulged in more than 70 hours of questioning.
MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER LAWYER FOR DONALD TRUMP: There's no relationship.
SCHNEIDER: Cohen told the House and Senate Intelligence Committees last year that all talks around the deal were done by January 2016, but he now admits discussions about the Moscow project continued as late as June 2016, after Donald Trump became the presumptive Republican nominee, and just one month before the convention.
Cohen saying he told Congress the deal, dubbed "the Moscow project," "ended before the Iowa caucus and the very first primary, in hopes of limiting the ongoing Russia investigations."
Cohen's revelations in court show he discussed the status of the Moscow project with Donald Trump on more than three occasions and briefed Trump's family members. Plus, despite previously denying any contact with Moscow related to the project, Cohen now admits he talked directly with someone in Vladimir Putin's press secretary's office for 20 minutes in January 2016.
FELIX SATER, FORMER TRUMP BUSINESS ASSOCIATE: I don't know Putin. I've never met him, but if this deal was going forward, I certainly would have started working the phones.
SCHNEIDER: Cohen also worked with Felix Sater, a Russian-American businessman, and outlined an itinerary to travel to Russia to discuss the deal. Cohen even contemplated that then-candidate Trump would also visit Russia, writing, "My trip before Cleveland. Donald Trump, once he becomes the nominee, after the convention."
Sater was in close contact with Cohen during the campaign and boasted about his ties to Vladimir Putin. "Our boy can become the president of the USA, and we can engineer it," Sater wrote. "I will get all of Putin's team to buy in on this. I will manage this process."
[17:05:08] The Trump Tower Moscow deal never came to fruition, but the changing story for Michael Cohen has congressional leaders calling for more investigations and more coordination with Mueller.
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA), RANKING MEMBER, HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: This, I think, only underscores the importance of our bringing Mr. Cohen back before our committee, but also looking into this issue of whether the Russians possessed financial leverage over the president of the United States.
We believe other witnesses were untruthful before our committee. We want to share those transcripts with Mr. Mueller.
SCHNEIDER: So while additional congressional probes of Cohen could pop up, it looks like his sentencing could come fairly soon. His attorneys have asked to merge this guilty plea with the other eight counts he pleaded guilty to and keep the sentencing date, very soon, of December 12.
Michael Cohen has not made any additional statements outside of court, but the president's lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, sent one out almost immediately, calling Cohen a proven liar -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Jessica. Thanks very much. Jessica Schneider reporting for us.
All of this comes as the president heads to Buenos Aires for the G-20 summit. Our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta, is in Buenos Aires for us, already on the ground.
Jim, the president responded to Cohen's plea by calling him a weak person and a liar.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: He certainly did, Wolf. And the president, as you said, is on his way to the G-20 summit here in Argentina.
He'll arrive on the ground at this summit facing new questions about his business dealings in Russia during the 2016 campaign. That's, of course, after the bombshell that his former attorney, Michael Cohen, dropped in federal court, pleading guilty to lying in Congress about those business dealings the president has with Russia.
ACOSTA (voice-over): President Trump's former lawyer and fixer, Michael Cohen, has left his old boss in a fix. Leaving for the G-20 summit the president lashed out at Cohen's decision to plead guilty to lying to Congress about Mr. Trump's business dealings in Moscow.
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He's a weak person, and what he's trying to do is get a reduced sentence. So he's lying, very simply, to get a reduced sentence, OK?
ACOSTA: Cohen admitted to the special counsel's office that his discussions with Mr. Trump about a possible real-estate project in Moscow lasted until at least June 2016, well into the campaign and five months longer than what he told Congress.
The president's outside lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, blasted Cohen in a statement, saying, "Michael Cohen is a liar. It's no surprise that Cohen lied to Congress. It is hardly coincidental that the 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. With regard to the hotel proposal in Moscow, the president has been completely open and transparent."
Giuliani, it should be not, has praised Cohen in the past.
RUDY GIULIANI, LAWYER FOR DONALD TRUMP: He doesn't have any incriminating evidence about the president or himself. The man is an honest, honorable lawyer.
ACOSTA: The president insisted to reporters he's been very open about the Moscow Trump Tower project.
TRUMP: 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. There would have been nothing wrong if I did do it.
ACOSTA: But that's not quite true. The Trump Moscow project only became public knowledge in February of last year, when it appeared in a story in "The New York Times." The new revelations from Cohen also run counter to what the president said about his dealings with Russia just days before he was sworn into office.
TRUMP: I have no dealings with Russia. I have no deals in Russia. I have no deals that could happen in Russia, because we've stayed away.
ACOSTA: Still, the president maintains he's not worried about what else Cohen may share with prosecutors.
TRUMP: Not at all. I'm not worried at all about him. ACOSTA: Democrats disagree.
SEN. MARK WARNER (D-VA), VICE-CHAIR, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: I guess we shouldn't be totally surprised at this. This is one more example of a close ally or an affiliate of Donald Trump lying about their ties or conversations with Russia or Russians.
ACOSTA: The president left for the G-20 with plans to sit down with Russian President Vladimir Putin, but Mr. Trump scrapped the meeting after speaking with advisers about Russia's recent aggression against Ukraine, tweeting, "I've decided it would be best for all parties concerned to cancel my previously=scheduled meeting in Argentina with President Vladimir Putin."
The tweet came less than an hour after the president indicated the meeting was still on.
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 doing.
ACOSTA: As for the Russia investigation, the president said there was one other former aide facing legal jeopardy who's also on his mind, Paul Manafort. Mr. Trump confirmed he hasn't ruled out a pardon for his former campaign chairman.
TRUMP: I've never seen anybody treated so poorly. But the question was asked 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.
ACOSTA: The president made it clear when it comes to Cohen, loyalty counts.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If Cohen is such a bum, why did you hire him, have him on your payroll for 12 years, and have him do so much of your dirty work?
TRUMP: Because a long time ago he did me a favor. A long time ago he did me a favor.
ACOSTA: Now the president's decision to cancel his meeting with Vladimir Putin here at the summit doesn't necessarily mean they won't actually meet. They could brush pass each other at the sidelines of the summit.
We should also point out, getting back to the president's comments about Michael Cohen and calling him a liar, we should also note at the same time, that the president's outside attorney, Rudy Giuliani, says the president's comments to the special counsel's office about that Trump Tower project in Moscow, that they are consistent with what Michael Cohen has said to the special counsel prosecutors in this case. And Wolf, as we've been hearing over the last several hours, the
president and both Rudy Giuliani have had some pretty harsh words for Michael Cohen, but they are not alone. I talked to a source close to the White House earlier today who described Michael Cohen as a, quote, "rat," adding that inmates hate rats -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Wow. All right. Jim Acosta in Buenos Aires for us at the G-20 summit. Thank you very much.
Let's dig deeper into the breaking news. Joining us right now, CNN senior justice correspondent Evan Perez; CNN political correspondent Sara Murray; and CNN crime and justice reporter Shimon Prokupecz.
Sara, how does this change our understanding of the time line of Trump's business dealings with Russia during the 2016 campaign and what Trump knew all about that?
SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it tells us that he was involved in a potentially significant business deal with Russia long after he let the American people know publicly, certainly long after the Iowa caucuses were over.
And, you know, if you believe what Michael Cohen said in court today, these are discussions that they were having up until, essentially, the Republican convention. If you can believe it, you know, they were talking about Donald Trump will go. He'll deliver his speech, accepting the Republican nomination in Cleveland, and then, if things went Michael Cohen's way, the president, or at that point candidate, Republican nominee Trump was going to get on a plane and visit Moscow. And it also means that the things that Trump said publicly, where he said he had no deals in Russia, no potential deals in Russia, I mean, that was just a lie, Wolf.
BLITZER: Evan, do we know if Trump was asked about this Russia deal by Robert Mueller, the special counsel, and whether his written answers just submitted the other day square with what Cohen now says, that he briefed the president extensively on all of this and worked on it with the president until June of 2016?
EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we know that the -- the question of this Trump Tower Moscow was part of the questions that the Mueller team asked the president.
We also know that, according to the president's lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, who told Pamela Brown, that the question was very, very broad, and that their answer, as a result, was very broad, that they did not get into specific dates in their answer to the Mueller team about when they knew about it, when he spoke to -- to Michael Cohen.
So if that is accurate then perhaps the answers won't necessarily be in conflict. But really, you know, Wolf, we don't know exactly what they said. We don't know the exact wording that they used. And we also know, though, from the documents that were released today, that the Mueller team has a lot more information. And so perhaps this is still yet to be a problem for the president. We just don't know how. BLITZER: Yes, good point. Shimon, the Trump team is dismissing Michael Cohen as a liar. Is that because they're worried about Trump has called a perjury trap?
SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Look, that could be one aspect of what they're worried about in terms of this.
But I think the bigger issue here right now is that you have Michael Cohen, who was, for so many, so many years so close to the president, knew all of his business dealings, his real-estate dealings, knew some of the family's dealings, has known so much about this family and so much about the president, that is really what their concern is. What else is he telling the special counsel?
The other thing, Wolf -- think about this -- is that Michael Cohen has now twice come into court, taken an oath, and has said, basically, that he was doing things on behalf of the president to try and cover up some of the president's actions, to try and make the president look better, to try and protect the president. This is why he was doing this. Between the Stormy Daniels stuff and now this. And we don't even know everything else that Michael Cohen has been telling the special counsel, FBI agents, and the U.S. attorney here in New York, over at the Southern District of New York.
Keep in mind, a lot of people are really worried about where this investigation is going to go, especially here in New York, Wolf.
BLITZER: Good point, as well.
Sara, Michael Cohen says he misled the federal investigators, the FBI and the special counsel's office to try to limit the probe. But he said this, and let me read the quote.
[17:15:07] He said, "I made these misstatements to be consistent with Trump's political messaging and out of loyalty to Trump."
Is there any indication, Sara, that any one specifically asked him to lie?
MURRAY: Well, Wolf, I think we just don't know the answer to that at this point. You know, there's no smoking gun that has emerged and, you know, for instance, Donald Trump telling Michael Cohen, "This is our story and we're going to stick to it." Is it possible those conversations happened? Certainly it's possible. But we don't have proof of them.
It's also possible that President Trump didn't believe that he had to have that conversation with Michael Cohen. Remember, this is a guy who was out there saying that he would be willing to take a bullet for Donald Trump, saying, you know, he's more loyal to Donald Trump than anyone else. And obviously, that tune has changed, Wolf.
BLITZER: Evan, what do we know about the timing of this dramatic development today? Did the Mueller team wait until after President Trump formally submitted his written answers to reveal Cohen's new testimony? PEREZ: Well, the timing -- the timing, Wolf, is certainly very
curious. And I can tell you that inside the Trump team, that was exactly one of the things that they were worried about.
If you remember, we talked about this on this program, that the president delayed -- the president and his team delayed when they responded to Mueller. They waited a few more days, simply because they were concerned that there was something that Robert Mueller and his team had up his sleev. They didn't know what it was.
And now we see that this was something that they had up their sleeve. Now, we don't know whether they specifically waited until today. But we certainly know that they had all this information already, and they've had the president's answers now for a few days. And now we know what they had their sleeve.
BLITZER: Yes. Very intriguing, indeed.
Shimon, Michael Cohen had at least seven meetings, we're told, more than 70 hours of questioning. What else could Cohen have talked to Mueller's team about, and what threat could all of that pose to President Trump?
PROKUPECZ: It's an ultimate threat. This is probably, perhaps right now the biggest threat to the president, to the Trump Organization and to members of the president's inner circle and family. You know, the fact that Michael Cohen has spent so much time with -- with the special counsel, with FBI agents, is an important point in this, is an important development in this entire investigation.
Because for some time, we weren't even sure, for those of us who have been covering this for quite some time, that the special counsel was going to find any credibility in what Michael Cohen was saying.
Well, clearly now, we have a very different story, and it's clear that the special counsel is taking what Michael Cohen is saying seriously and is going to continue to take what he's saying seriously, because according to Michael Cohen's lawyer, he's continuing to cooperate. He said as much when he left court today.
Look, I think a lot of people today should be worried because of what Michael Cohen knows, the Trump Organization and real-estate dealings, perhaps other Russia dealings that we don't even know about. Michael Cohen knows a lot, and certainly, we don't know everything. And the special counsel now has it all.
BLITZER: Shimon Prokupecz, Sara Murray, Evan Perez. Guys, excellent reporting. Thank you very, very much.
Let's get some more on all of these dramatic developments. Republican Congressman Mike Turner of Ohio is joining us. He's a key member of both the Intelligence and Armed Services Committees.
Congressman, thanks so much for joining us. Let me get your reaction to Michael Cohen's surprise plea agreement that was announced today. How significant is this development, do you believe, for the overall Russia probe?
REP. MIKE TURNER (R), OHIO: Well, first off, as you and I have discussed before, Wolf, I support the special counsel's investigation. It's very important for us to get to the bottom of Russian meddling in the election.
I think today's events certainly underscore to everyone the -- the importance of being truthful to Congress on a bipartisan basis. I think everyone is very pleased to find people being prosecuted for lying to Congress. I think there are many instances that need to be reviewed throughout all of these testimonies that we've had in this investigation for that.
But one thing that I think is interesting when you look at interesting. The investigation is about Russia meddling, but the guilty plea today is not about the election and the meddling in the election. Excuse me. In fact, the statement that Cohen made to Congress, that he pled guilty and having made false statements today, included a statement by him that he was not involved in collusion with the Russian federation with respect to hacking anyone. That was not in his guilty plea today. That doesn't mean it's not going to be in the future.
But it's certainly notable, because the Mueller investigation is not about a failed real-estate deal. It's about Russian meddling in the election and if there was collusion and collaboration. And still today we have no American who's been charged with that as the Mueller investigation moves forward. We'll have to wait and see whether or not that does come forward.
BLITZER: Well, the investigation also includes Russian meddling, Russian influence in the election. That's what Mueller, among other things, is investigating, as well -- to see if any U.S. laws were violated.
Do you believe, Congressman, that Michael Cohen, when he testified before your committee last year, the House Intelligence Committee, did you have any reason to believe at that time that he was lying to you and your colleagues?
[17:20:07] TURNER: Well, I think that there were a number of times throughout all the testimonies from -- whether it be Clapper and Comey himself, where there were inconsistencies in statements. And I think it's one of the reasons why the committees moved to have all of these transcripts made public, because, obviously, Congress doesn't prosecute crimes; and lying to Congress is a crime.
And I think that they should be reviewed by the special counsel, and people should be held accountable.
Now, I can tell you this. Having looked at the transcript again, the 70 hours that he spent before the Mueller investigation, he's a guy who winds around a lot for answers. So I wouldn't exact that all 70 hours were fruitful.
BLITZER: If Michael Cohen is telling the truth now and, as you know, Mueller and his team they've said in court that they believe he's telling the truth now, and the president lied to the American people about various deals that were ongoing with the Russians, would that be a problem with you?
TURNER: Well, I think we're going to have to look at -- comparing notes, too, but I think, certainly, everybody looks to the president of the United States to be truthful to the American people. And that's a concern at all times.
BLITZER: Because the president says Cohen is lying right now. Do you have any reason to doubt the special counsel's claim that Cohen is now finally telling the truth?
TURNER: Well, I don't know that Cohen is telling the truth about everything, and I think certainly, we're going to have to wait to see how this evolves.
Again, what's notable is that the -- the guilty plea today did not involve collusion or collaboration with Russia with respect to the investigation. We don't know whether or not that's coming, or not. But still, here we are, two years into this investigation. Not one American that has been alleged by the Mueller investigation to have been part of collusion or collaboration with Russia in its meddling with the election.
BLITZER: Rudy Giuliani says the president's written responses to Mueller are consistent with what Cohen said about the Moscow dealings. The other day, he handed over those written responses to Mueller and the special counsel's team. But the president himself today says Cohen is lying about all of this. How can both be true?
TURNER: Well, you know, I'm not going to respond to what the president said. You'll have to ask him those questions.
But can I say this. I think this underscores the importance of the Mueller investigation and why the Intelligence Committee and the House handed this -- their portions of the investigation over, saying, "We've concluded all that we can do," and now with the tools that they have, the mandate that they have, it's important for them to get answers for the American people.
BLITZER: Because, as you know, the -- Michael Cohen, he said in federal court today he lied before your committee, before the Senate committee, specifically to protect the president and to be consistent with what the president was saying, and so that's a pretty significant charge.
TURNER: Well, again, you know, it's down to Michael Cohen's statements. And I'm not going to take his statements as truthful, other than his guilty plea itself. I think the Mueller investigation knows what information they have, and what they're getting to the facts and will give us an understanding of what has happened and occurred. And that's what I'm looking forward to, and the American people are looking for.
BLITZER: The Senate Intelligence Committee now says they want to bring Cohen back for more questioning. Should your committee, the House Intelligence Committee, do the same?
TURNER: I think it's really an opportunity to do that. There are additional questions to ask him about, you know, did he lie in what he said to us before? That's certainly important to know.
Because his testimony before us was under oath. And he's not today being prosecuted for lying -- for committing perjury. He's being prosecuted for his guilty plea for lying to Congress. The testimony that he gave before us was under oath. There are, perhaps, other statements that he made that are untrue, and if -- if they are, then certainly, they should be brought forward also, and he should be held accountable.
BLITZER: Given all the late-breaking developments we're seeing now in the Russia probe, do you believe Republicans, the leadership of your House Intelligence Committee, shut down your committee's investigation prematurely?
TURNER: Absolutely not. I was involved in the hearings and in reviewing the transcripts, and I can tell you that we had gotten to the point where either we were going to be interfering with the Mueller investigation, special counsel investigation, or we were getting redundant information.
I think the special counsel is where this particular investigation should be. They have tools and information that, you know, clearly will get to the truth and the answer. You know, it -- it had gotten to the point in the Intelligence Committee, it was all about who can run to the cameras first and make, you know, statements about Donald Trump's interference in the Russian investigation or Donald Trump's interference with the election with Russians, all of which were not shown as having any basis in the testimony we're receiving, and we thought it was best that the Mueller investigation get to the facts, get an answer for the American public, and that's what needs to happen here.
BLITZER: Well, when the Democrats after January 3 are the majority in the House of Representatives, Adam Schiff is the chairman of your committee. You know they're going to reopen this whole thing. You're going to be in the minority then, but there's going to be a whole bunch of hearings, I suspect, and a bunch of subpoenas, as well.
Finally, before I let you go, Congressman, as you know, the president is right now on his way to the G-20 summit in Buenos Aires, Argentina. He's scheduled to -- he was scheduled, I should say, to meet with Russian President Putin but the president today abruptly cancelled that meeting, at least for now, citing Russia's recent aggression against Ukraine. Do you buy that explanation?
TURNER: I think it's incredibly important that, on the basis of what Russia has done to Ukraine, that the president not meet with Vladimir Putin.
You know, the president has held the sanctions against Russia for their invasion of Ukraine and their annexation of Crimea. He's increased sanctions as a result of the chemical agent that was used in London. He has armed the Ukraine, which was not done under the previous administration, to aid them in their defense.
Vladimir Putin has continued to increase the aggression here. Interfering with Ukrainian access to the Black Sea cannot be permitted. This is obviously an escalation, and I think the president's response was appropriate.
BLITZER: And as you know, the president is accusing all these individuals who have been investigated now by Mueller and his team of being liars. Do you believe the president when he says all these individuals are now lying?
TURNER: You know, the president has used that term for a lot of people, so I wouldn't use that a broad brush for the president of the United States saying that. But I would say this.
I have and I think everyone on both sides of the aisle have been very displeased, both from the Obama administration and the Trump gang and associates, in this investigation, feeling that we were not receiving full disclosure or the correct information that people were, you know, misleading Congress and lying to Congress. We certainly see that today.
I think certainly, there are inconsistencies, even in Comey and Clapper's testimony, that need to be pursued. So I think that there's certainly a bunchy of displeasure to go around with respect to the information that the committee received.
BLITZER: Do you think the president is telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth?
TURNER: That's really not for me to say. I think this -- what we're here to talk about is this investigation, and I think the special counsel is going to get to what is the truth and then we'll have -- we'll be able to have that discussion, Wolf.
BLITZER: Well, he's the president of the United States. He's the leader of the Republican Party, and you're telling me you're unable to say whether you believe the president is telling the truth?
TURNER: This is what I believe, Wolf and this is what I've said. I believe that the special counsel investigation is incredibly important because we're going to get an understanding of what happened. We're going to get an understanding of the facts and then from that we're going to understand what actions occurred, whether or not there was collusion or collaboration. And that's going to be incredibly important to us and the American people and preserving our democracy.
BLITZER: Congressman Turner, thanks so much for joining us. Really appreciate it.
TURNER: Thank you. Take care.
BLITZER: Lots of news happening. We're going to continue to follow the breaking news. Michael Cohen now cooperating with the special counsel Robert Mueller. What is he telling him? And is Mueller now closing in on collusion between the Trump campaign
and Russia? We're taking a closer look at all the late-breaking developments.
[17:32:12] WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: The breaking news tonight. Former Trump personal attorney and fixer Michael Cohen pleading guilty to lying to Congress about the Trump Tower-Moscow project and what Mr. Trump knew about it during the 2016 presidential campaign. Let's get more with our contributors and our analysts. And Laura Coates, walk us through your analysis of Michael Cohen's guilty plea today and what it means for the overall Russia investigation.
LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, the underlying question everyone has had about the collusion probe is essentially, why would there be some thought on behalf of Russia or a foreign nation if there was some reception or receptivity on behalf of the Trump campaign? Why would they think for some second, they'd would have a safe haven or have an inroad in any way? What this has told you in this actual guilty plea is that you have a motive here, you have some reason to understand why perhaps the president of the United States has been reluctant to condemn Russia, has been not willing to speak out in favor of our own intelligence community about the ties and the collusive activities or perhaps the interference and why there may be financial dealings at play.
All of these things that we've been talking about and the reason for maybe not wanting to provide financial forms or tax returns, all of this hint towards what Michael Cohen actually said. Now, of course, Wolf, he's not the most sympathetic of witnesses. He has pled guilty to six felonies a few months ago. We have credibility issue there. However, we also have somebody, who is in a very unique position to tell what he knows about the timing of the conversations about that Trump Tower-Moscow.
And for that reason, you do have the sense that Mueller has chosen through corroborating evidence, he's not going to take Cohen's word for it wholeheartedly. He must have corroboration. And finally, the timing of it is so important to me as a prosecutor here because, remember, a few days ago Donald Trump handed in his written answers, and now it's blocked in stone. The opportunity for backpedaling or explaining himself away about maybe lying to the media is all gone. Now, you have the comparison to his own words in writing, in stone.
BLITZER: Gloria, you've been working your sources and they're good ones, I know that. What are you hearing about Cohen's other discussions with Robert Mueller?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, my colleague Pamela Brown and I have been doing some reporting on this today. And a source with knowledge tells us that there were over 70, that's 7-0, hours of discussions with Michael Cohen, so that clearly means there are a lot of other topics that were discussed. I spoke with one source who's very close to Michael Cohen today, and this source put it to me this way. The source said, Michael has the goods, he has extremely valuable information. What does that mean, Wolf? Well, we know the kinds of questions that Mueller has been asking, not only to Donald Trump but to others who have testified.
We know that they've asked about WikiLeaks and collusion and the question of whether the Trump campaign knew anything about that, about whether the issue of a pardon for anyone was, was ever discussed, about whether the president knew about the Trump Tower meeting that Donald Jr. arranged. So, when you, when you put this all together and you try and step back and take a look at the big picture here, you have the man who once said that he would take a bullet for Donald Trump turning into his very own Brutus. It's very Shakespearean.
[17:35:31] And I think as this all unravels, we are going to see just how much Michael Cohen knows, not only about Donald Trump but also about the family business and I think we're just going to have to see this play out because it's very clear that Bob Mueller knows a lot more than he's telling us right now and that he would not accept Michael Cohen's word for anything unless he had an awful lot of corroboration.
BLITZER: Yes, a well-placed source tells me that Mueller knows everything already. It's very interesting Bianna Golodryga, the Michelle Kosinski is now reporting and I want to be precise, she's getting this from a source familiar with the White House, with White House, a source familiar with what's going on, that White House officials prepping the president for the G20 summit in Argentina; the president's on his way there right now. They say that President Trump is "in a terrible mood, spooked and completely distracted." That's pretty extraordinary going into a high-level series of meetings like this.
BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: And pretty understandable given the circumstance, Wolf, what I've been focusing on is Russia's reaction and I can tell you that as of this morning, Russian media had been reporting that President Putin had been planning to sit down with President Trump on Saturday at 9:30 a.m. East Coast Time, for what they said was at least two hours. They named the hotel, and given the -- given the detail in this confirmation it's something we didn't even see leading up to the Helsinki meeting.
There was a lot of vague detail going into that meeting, what time it would take place, if it would take place, so the significance here being that Vladimir Putin would not have confirmed, the Kremlin would not have confirmed that a meeting would be taking place if they didn't anticipate the one would be. This is an embarrassment for Vladimir Putin who looks now like he was stood up. The Kremlin responded that, oh, well, we're going to have to find something else that he's going to do with those two hours.
But that shows the quick change in the president's mood and the quick change in the president's thought process going into this summit given that just an hour before the Michael Cohen news came out, he acknowledged that very well would likely sit down with Vladimir Putin. Why would this would all of a sudden be attributed to the hostilities between Russia and Ukraine, and Russian aggression in Ukraine, that's the White House's answer to that, but, of course, a lot of people are skeptical about the timing.
BLITZER: That's a good point. Chris Cillizza, do you think the president was wary of the optics of sitting down with Putin so soon after this bombshell?
CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, and I also think context matters here. Let's remember back in Helsinki, Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin side by side. Donald Trump says, well, you know, I know our intelligence community says it was Russia that interfered in the election and they sort of helped me and hurt Hillary Clinton, but Vladimir Putin says it wasn't.
We are both to blame in this circumstance and there was a huge uproar stateside over that. So, if he is not in a great place mentally, as it relates to dealing with Cohen and what looks like Bob Mueller's investigation picking up momentum and the vice tightening, it might not be the best idea for Donald Trump to sit down with Vladimir Putin or candidly, you know, any other potentially hostile world leader. I don't think that the Ukrainian-Russia issue at sea is the reason for that, Wolf.
I think it can be cited for as a reason but put me in Bianna's camp, which is I think a lot of this has to do with the fact that it just would shine even more light on what he would not do. And he can almost be certain that Donald Trump, if he did do a sit down with Vladimir Putin, he's not going to all of a sudden going to confront Vladimir Putin over Russian interference. He hasn't done it before, not going to start doing it now.
GOLODRYGA: And mind you, Wolf, I could just interject here that optics didn't really have much of an effect in the president's decision making going into the Helsinki meeting as well. Remember, there was a lot of anticipation from both Republicans and Democrats and the worlds, quite frankly, for the president to really address Russian interference in the U.S. election and to be firm with Vladimir Putin. He seemed to go into this meeting knowing all of this and at the same time, still sitting down in a one-on-one private meeting with Vladimir Putin and coming out seemingly taking his side. So, optics isn't something that the president puts at the forefront of his decision-making when it comes to Russia and yet, here we are.
[17:40:07] BLITZER: We'll, let's see what happens in Buenos Aires, Argentina at the G20 summit tomorrow and Saturday. All right, everybody standby, we're going to have much more on the breaking news. Michael Cohen's plea agreement and Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation (INAUDIBLE). We'll get reaction to the news, as well as President Trump's abrupt decision to cancel his meeting with Vladimir Putin.
BLITZER: Breaking news, a source now tells CNN that White House officials are preparing for the president's G20 summit in Argentina tomorrow and Saturday. They say the president is now in a "terrible mood, spooked and completely distracted," after Michael Cohen's guilty plea today in the Special Counsel Robert Mueller's probe. The president abruptly cancelled his one-on-one meeting with the Russian President Vladimir Putin during the summit. Let's go live to our Senior International Correspondent Fred Pleitgen joining us from Russia right now. Fred, how did the Russians take the cancellation?
FRED PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, they didn't take it very well and there certainly are people in Russia media and also Russian politicians who believe also that this was some sort of false pretext, Wolf, that this has more to do with the case of Michael Cohen than it has to do with what happened here, that standoff in the Sea of Azov. There was a senior Russian lawmaker who just came out with a tweet a couple of minutes ago saying exactly that.
Now, what I managed to do tonight, Wolf, is that I managed to get in touch with the spokesman for Vladimir Putin with Dmitry Peskov as he was actually on the Russian presidential plane and asked him about cancellation. He came back to me and he said the following and I quote: "We are flying actually. So far, we've only seen Trump's tweets and media reports. We don't have official confirmation yet. And if this is the case, we'll have an extra couple of hours for other useful meetings."
By the way, Wolf, this was the same conversation with Dmitry Peskov where he also confirmed to me that, yes, indeed, Michael Cohen had gotten in touch with his office earlier and that also he had responded as well. Meanwhile, here on the ground, Wolf, things actually are continuing to escalate between the Russians and Ukrainians. Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko today calling for NATO to send warships to the Sea of Azov, that obviously would be a big escalation here of things that are going on.
The Russians, meanwhile, firing back saying that they believe that foreign powers may have had to do with the standoff that took place here a couple of days ago. As you can see, Wolf, things ratcheting up, and certainly the president cancelling that meeting not going down well at all here in Russia, Wolf.
[17:45:11] BLITZER: So, did they say what they would like to do if there's no formal two-hour sit-down meeting with the president of the United States. So, what do they want to do? Have a little side meeting along the sidelines, as they say?
PLEITGEN: Well, I do believe that the Russians still hope that there will be some sort of, at least interaction between Vladimir Putin and President Trump even if it is only on the side, maybe before or after some sort of photo opportunity. But really, all we have right now from Dmitry Peskov is him saying that they'll find some sort of other meeting that Vladimir Putin is going to take place.
And keep in mind, Wolf, this is also a very important summit for Putin as well. He is actually meeting with Mohammed bin Salman, that's certainly something that the world is going to be looking as well. So, the Russians certainly have prepared for a long time for this summit, but this meeting not taking place with President Trump really is really a big problem for them.
BLITZER: Yes, we'll see if President Trump has a little side meeting with the Saudi crown prince who's also in Buenos Aires, in Argentina right now. All right, Fred, thanks very much. Fred Pleitgen reporting from Russia. Coming up, we're going to have more on the breaking news. President Trump's former attorney and fixer Michael Cohen flipping and admitting lying to Congress about his boss' business project in Russia out of loyalty. And in just a minute, we'll take a closer look at Donald Trump's attempts to do business in Russia, why did so much of his projects come to nothing?
[17:51:05] BLITZER: We're digging deeper on today's breaking news. President Trump's former attorney and fixer Michael Cohen pleading guilty in Special Counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation. Cohen now admits he lied to the U.S. Congress about a failed project to build a Trump Tower in Moscow. CNN's Brian Todd has been looking into the Trump organizations many attempts to do business in Russia over the years. Brian, what are you finding out?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we've learned that there were at least two attempts by Donald Trump to build Trump towers in Moscow in recent years, but his dreams of scoring big real estate deals in Russia go back decades. The swagger, the sheer capitalist ambition were impressive but success in real estate in Russia eluded Donald Trump.
TODD: The potential Trump Tower deal in Moscow which Michael Cohen admitted today to working on as late as June of 2016 would have been sweet for Donald Trump. 250 luxury condo units, 15 floors of hotel rooms. The chance to name a spa after his daughter, Ivanka. But as President Trump stressed today, that deal never went through.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: 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.
TODD: Before and since taking office, the president has repeatedly denied ever sealing any real estate deals in Russia.
TRUMP: I own nothing in Russia. I have no loans in Russia. I don't have any deals in Russia. I have no deals. I have no loans. And I have no dealings.
TODD: But it wasn't for a lack of trying. CNN and other news outlets have reported that while no Trump real estate deals inside Russia were ever finalized, there were attempts dating back at least 30 years.
CRAIG UNGER, JOURNALIST AND WRITER: He was invited there by the Russians in 1987 and he made a famous trip there and he fell in love with Russia.
MICHAEL KRANISH, AUTHOR: He tried very hard several times to do deals in Moscow. He said, we'll be in Moscow, it's inevitable, we'll be there. But in the end, he wasn't able to do the real estate deals. TODD: Biographers and journalists who've investigated Trump's
business deals say Trump tried at least twice to build a Trump Tower in Moscow. Along the way, the Trump organization enlisted some interesting characters to help them. One is Felix Sader, a mob-linked felon-turned-FBI informant referred to in today's Cohen plea, who tried to facilitate the Trump Tower deal in 2016.
UNGER: Felix Sader is one of the most enigmatic figures in the entire Trump-Russia saga. And we know he and his father both allegedly had ties to the Russia mafia going way back. Felix grew up mostly in Brooklyn, in the Brighton Beach area, which was sort of the headquarters for the Russian mafia.
TODD: Why did none of those heavily hyped Trump real estate deals in Russia ever go through?
MICHAEL ISIKOFF, CHIEF INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT, YAHOO! NEWS: The one problem that Trump always had was getting the approval of the Russian government. He was always concerned that the bureaucracy and the Kremlin was too -- time consuming, that there was too much. That's one of the reasons he was so interested in cultivating Putin himself.
TODD: But Trump has made money from Russians. He sold this mansion in Palm Beach to a Russian billionaire for $95 million. And there was one business deal in Moscow that did succeed.
TRUMP: Russia is our partner.
TODD: In 2013, he made millions when he partnered with a Russian billionaire to hold the "Miss Universe Pageant" in the shadow of the Kremlin.
TODD: Now, could there be other Trump business deals in Russia that we haven't heard about? Analysts say, probably not. But if there are, those deals could at least be politically harmful to the president if he does not disclose them. Wolf?
BLITZER: All right, Brian, good reporting. Brian Todd reporting for us.
[17:54:47] The breaking news, it continues. Former Trump fixer and personal attorney Michael Cohen drops a bombshell in his plea agreement revealing that he lied to the U.S. Congress to protect the president and to limit the Russia investigation.
BLITZER: Happening now. Breaking news, Cohen's confession. The president's former lawyer admits he lied to Congress to cover up the full extent of Mr. Trump's business dealings with Russia. We're assessing the potential damage to the president from Michael Cohen's stunning plea agreement with Robert Mueller. [18:00:01] 70 hours. CNN has learned that Cohen has talked
extensively with the special counsel in multiple meetings out of variety of --