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Michael Cohen Asks Federal Judge for No Prison Time; Nadler: Trump's Lies Gave Kremlin Leverage Over Him; Cohen Cites He Briefed Trump on Moscow Project as Late as June 2016; Stocks Set to Surge After U.S.-China Reach Trade Truce; America Prepares to Say Goodbye to 41st President. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired December 3, 2018 - 09:00   ET

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


[09:00:04] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. I'm Jim Sciutto. Poppy is off today.

Truly a remarkable life for President Bush. We are covering other news, though. President Trump back home and facing an intensifying Russia investigation. Attorneys for Michael Cohen asking a judge leniency and in the process revealing new details about the president's alleged role in the Moscow Trump Tower project deep into the 2016 campaign.

Meanwhile, President Trump's longtime friend and adviser Roger Stone vows that he will never testify against the president and says that he had no contact with WikiLeaks on the Clinton campaign's stolen e- mails, this despite many tweets to the contrary during the campaign.

Also this morning, a temporary trade truce between the U.S. and China sends stock futures soaring, as you can see there. What did the U.S. gain after months in tension and threats? We're going to look into that.

We're on top of all of it. But first, an entire country coming together, as America mourns the passing of the 41st president of the United States, George Herbert Walker Bush, a war hero, a congressman, a U.N. ambassador, a CIA director, a vice president, and then of course president and father of a U.S. president as well. He will make his final flight to Washington today on Air Force One renamed for this week as Special Air Mission 41.

Traveling with the president's casket today will be his devoted service dog, Sully. Look at this photo there. A moving photo of Sully lying next to his flag-draped casket of his owner with the caption, "Mission Complete."

Let's get to CNN's Ed Lavandera in Houston with more on today's events for President Bush.

So, Ed, game it out for us today. So many moments over the course of the day for Americans, for his family to honor him.

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. It's the beginning of a moving week here in the city of Houston and really across the country. But in about 2 1/2 hours, we will really see our first glimpse of the Bush family, as they begin a very public good-bye to the patriarch of the Bush family, President George H.W. Bush. This is when, at an airfield here south of Houston, the casket of the former president will be lifted into Special Mission 41.

This is the plane that when President Trump uses it, it is known as Air Force One, or whoever the sitting president is. So this is a -- will be a poignant moment here through in the somber ceremony there, the very quiet, but the echoes of "Hail to the Chief" and the 21-gun salute will echo through the air as that casket is moved on to the aircraft and beginning its journey from Houston to Washington, D.C. around 11:30 Eastern Time this morning, and then the casket will be taken to the U.S. capitol, where the former president will lie in state until Wednesday morning. That's when the state funeral at the National Cathedral will be held.

Before the former president, Jim, is returned here to Houston, there will be another memorial service on Thursday morning and then the casket and the former president will be taken to his presidential library on the campus of Texas A&M University. That will be the final resting place. He'll be buried next to his wife, Barbara, who of course everyone knows passed away earlier this year, and also next to their 3-year-old daughter, Robin.

This was the young girl who died of leukemia back in the early 1950s. And obviously that death has played a poignant role in the Bushes' family life. But that is the series of events that is about to get underway here in Houston and across the country today -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: Ed Lavandera, thanks very much.

Of course many of those events reminiscent to the nation's good-bye to John McCain just a number of weeks ago.

Right now final arrangements are being made on Capitol Hill where in just hours the 41st president will lie in state, an enormous honor.

Phil Mattingly is there with more.

Good morning, Phil. Not many folks get that honor, to be there in the rotunda, to lie in state. Of course, we saw that for John McCain recently. Tell us about preparations there on the Hill and just what you're hearing from folks who served with this president before.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. As you note, it's a very limited number, fewer than 35 have been able to lie in state or in honor in the rotunda. Obviously a lot of recent memories of Senator John McCain. If you kind of track back through the last very prominent government officials to lie in state there you also have Daniel Inouye, the last president, President Gerald Ford and obviously you have President Ronald Reagan as well.

Now when you talk about what the preparations are going into this, basically what we have is President Bush is expected to arrive later this afternoon. A ceremony will then follow. And when that ceremony begins, you'll have a prayer and then you'll have Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Speaker Paul Ryan and Vice President Mike Pence all expected to give remarks.

And obviously everybody will be paying a lot of attention to that. You have a lot of lawmakers, Jim, in both of these chambers who served when President Bush was president or in some capacity over his very, very lengthy government career, including a couple of senators who actually served in President Bush's administration.

[09:05:13] Most of those, we expect them to be there. But I think the most interesting thing we saw, it kind of hint to this with Senator McCain earlier in the year, is what happens after the ceremony. As is tradition, the rotunda is expected to be open to the public on a rolling basis until Wednesday morning, which means the public can come in at any point after the ceremony ends and pay their respects to the former president. That is often some of the most moving things that you see, the most moving pictures you see.

And as somebody who's spoken to those who stood in line to pay their respects in moments like this and some of the best stories because they're not necessarily government officials and people you've seen on TV or read about in the papers all the time. They're ordinary people who've come to pay their respects, who all have a personal moment that they want to share. That'll be some of the most interesting stuff to see.

But, obviously, as you know, Jim, historic. It's something we don't see very often. And one other tidbit of history keep an eye on the catafalque or the platform that the casket will eventually be placed on. That was actually first built in 1865 for Abraham Lincoln. It has been used ever since when individuals lie in state. It is expected to be used again. A little piece of history there. No shortage of it over the course of the next couple of days -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: Quite a meaningful piece of history there.

Phil Mattingly, thanks very much.

Well, let's discuss now with former CNN Washington bureau chief, Frank Sesno. He covered Bush 41 in the White House there. A lot of personal contacts with him.

Frank, thanks for taking the time this morning.

FRANK SESNO, DIRECTOR, SCHOOL OF MEDIA AND PUBLIC AFFAIRS, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY: It's my pleasure. Thanks.

SCIUTTO: So you had the final interview, that's right, with President Bush before he lost re-election, which was a blow, certainly, for him. Tell us about his thoughts at that time.

SESNO: Well, this was -- I was doing our Sunday show at the time. And I flew out to Lacrosse, Wisconsin, with my friend, Rick Davis, who was executive producing the program. We had a whole series of questions that we wanted to ask him and that were largely was propelled, not completely but largely there has been, for those who remember, the Iran-contra scandal during the Reagan administration. George Bush was the vice president then, always kept his distance and

said he was not in the loop. But the special counsel at the time, this all sounds reminiscent, too, right? Had just indicted the former Defense Secretary Casper Weinberger. And George Herbert Walker Bush who was running for re-election had not addressed that issue or any of his role, potential role in the thing. So I wanted to ask him about that.

The other big thing that really played a role in the dynamic of the moment was we were just days from the election. It was tight. Bush was down. A "Wall Street Journal" poll, I believe, just the Friday before that, or Thursday, Friday before we went out there, showed a little uptick in Bush's numbers and so the campaign got sort of energized by that. Just before we sat down we got CNN numbers which actually showed Bush's numbers down.

When I asked him about that, he sort of deflated. I mean, it just -- the color ran out of his face. And then I started asking him about this Iran-contra business. And he didn't want to answer that and I kept asking, and he said, Frank, are we going to talk about anything else? So it wasn't a very pleasant moment for him. And after that, he was annoyed by the whole process and canceled all of his other interviews between then and election day, because he said I just want to go out and campaign and talk to people and not these annoying journalists.

But for all of that, Jim, he understood the give and take. And he respected it. I interviewed him later for a documentary I was doing for the History Channel on Ronald Reagan. And he was unbelievably pleasant and very revealing about his time with Reagan. So that was sort of the way we did business at the time.

SCIUTTO: It's a good point because you bring up what is a fact here, and going back many presidents even before him, John F. Kennedy, folks, they complained about press coverage, didn't get asked the questions that they wanted. But what was different? Because you said that even in those difficult moments, like the interview, the final interview you had with him as president, a sense of goodwill remained.

SESNO: Always a sense of goodwill. He came into that interview. We shook hands. He smiled. He was cheerful. When he left he wasn't so cheerful but he still shook hands and he respected our respective roles. And he knew that he was going to be pounded. He talked about this. He wrote about it. And he basically said if you can't take that, that's part of the job, you know, you've got to, you know, do something else.

But I think, Jim, what really drove George Herbert Walker Bush -- forget the press. Forget the criticism, forget everything else, was his sense of service. You mentioned at the outset of this. You know, Navy pilot, U.N. ambassador, CIA director, ambassador overseas. He had this sense to his country, and which he passed down to his sons and others. And that's really what propelled him. He had a great sense of the weight.

I remember before the Gulf War, before the ground war began, we were told that he went for a walk on the grounds to pray.

[09:10:00] He felt this weight of being about to deploy American soldiers, some of whom he knew would lose their lives.

SCIUTTO: Yes.

SESNO: And he took that very seriously.

SCIUTTO: And, listen, the last U.S. president who served in combat himself in that moment there speaks to how that affects then his decisions to send people to war and, of course, dedication to service throughout many levels of his career.

Frank Sesno, thanks so much for sharing those personal reminiscences of Bush 41.

SESNO: Thank you, Jim. Thank you, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Well, to the White House now, the current one, of course, where a week of tributes to the late president will push many pressing concerns to the background at least for now but they certainly aren't going away. Case in point, the Russia investigation, likely unfazed by new attacks from the president's lawyer and new defiance from a longtime ally and confidant.

CNN's Abby Phillip has more on all of this.

So, of course, last week was a big week of news for the Russia investigation with Michael Cohen again pleading guilty to a crime for the second time, and one in which he contradicts the president here. How is the White House handling those developments?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Jim. With all that's going on both here in the United States and around the world for President Trump, the Mueller probe marches on. And as the president was actually headed out to go on the international stage to the G20, that news of Cohen's guilty plea hit the transom, and President Trump reacted pretty sharply to it, calling his former personal attorney weak.

But now the tension is really turning to other people, other Trump confidants who are in Mueller's crosshairs. The president's attorney, Rudy Giuliani, over the weekend accused Robert Mueller and the special prosecutors of intimidating Trump allies in order to get them to flip on the president. One such ally is Roger Stone, who has spoken to the president many times over the years and is under scrutiny over his contacts and his talk about WikiLeaks. Roger Stone appeared over the weekend and said he would not testify against President Trump.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROGER STONE, FORMER ADVISER TO TRUMP CAMPAIGN: There's no circumstance under which I would testify against the president because I'd have to bear false witness against him. I'd have to make things up, and I'm not going to do that. I've had no discussion regarding a pardon. The only person I push for a pardon for is Marcus Garvey, who I think should be pardoned posthumously and I wrote to the president about that.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABS NEWS ANCHOR: Not Paul Manafort?

STONE: I've had no such discussions.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PHILLIP: So this is unlikely to go away very quickly for this president and as we wait to see what more Mueller has, President Trump is clearly irritated by it, distracted by it. And it's casting a cloud over his presidency, especially in the last week -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: Well, you also wonder how much those comments in public are signaling between the various sides involved here.

Abby Phillip, thanks very much, from the White House.

Looking at the market, stocks are set to surge on a temporary trade truce with China. But we're hearing different messages as those negotiations begin. What actually happened in that conversation between Xi and Trump? And will that lead to a final deal?

Plus, talks have fallen apart and time is running out for lawmakers to strike a spending deal here at home. Could another government shutdown be coming?

And forget that he's a brutal dictator, President Trump asks South Korean's president to pass along this message to Kim Jong-un. "I like you."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[09:15:00] SCIUTTO: The president's former lawyer and former chief problem solver is asking a federal judge to keep him out of prison. Michael Cohen says that his extensive cooperation with the Feds warrants leniency even for the offence that he admitted to just last week, and that is lying to Congress.

Repercussions from that plea may be felt for weeks or months to come. He is cooperating, we should note that. Joining me now to talk about that and more, Cnn legal analyst Paul Callan and from the "Washington Post", Cnn political analyst Seung Min Kim.

Thanks to both of you for joining us on this Monday. Paul, this phrase is taking hold among the president and his supporters that lying to the FBI, lying to Congress is just a process crime. I'd like to ask your view of that as a lawyer, and because of course it raises the question, what can the FBI or Congress do if witnesses in sworn testimony don't tell them the truth?

PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, they have enormous power, law enforcement authorities do, when witnesses lie in investigations. And, you know, if you look at white collar crime in general, the Trump administration is now experiencing something that lawyers have known for a long time. And sometimes it's not the crime, it's the cover-up that does people

in. And a lot of times when you have a complex white collar investigation, people start to tell lies to FBI agents, to federal investigators, to grand juries, and often it's difficult to prove the underlying crime, but it's easy to prove the lie.

And you look at the Watergate scandal, many other scandals that have done in political figures in the United States, and it has to do with lying to law enforcement authorities. It's a serious crime.

SCIUTTO: So I mean, one of the issues here is the consistency of the lies. Not just by his advisors, but the president has been proven here to at least been misleading in saying that he had no dealings with Russia during the campaign when, in fact, Michael Cohen says it continued right up to the month before the Republican convention.

What answer does the White House have to that question as to why so many lies and from so many people involved or close to the president here?

SEUNG MIN KIM, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, WASHINGTON POST & CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, the consistent responses that we've been seeing from the White House. First of all is the president disparaging the Mueller investigation --

SCIUTTO: Sure.

KIM: And trying to just cast doubts on it as much as possible. Right now, the president, his allies are calling Michael Cohen the person who is not to be trusted. But clearly, the special counsel, Mr. Mueller does think that Cohen does have valuable information to provide, to provide this plea deal or to agree to this plea deal.

[09:20:00] And also the important thing to remember is that with Michael Cohen's plea deal in lying to Congress is that a lot of people have talked to Congress throughout the course of the respective congressional panel's investigation, and we heard pretty stark warnings from both Richard Burr, the Chairman of the Intelligence Committee and Mark Warner; the top Democrat on the Intelligence Committee over the weekend, saying they are constantly reviewing testimony, looking for inconsistencies.

They both say they've made referrals to the special counsel, to DOJ on this matter, and a pretty stark warning from both of them, that if you lie to -- if you lie to Congress, we will come after you. We will find you --

SCIUTTO: Yes, well, people go to jail for lying to Congress or the FBI. I mean, beyond the lying, Paul, there's another issue here. It's an issue of leverage and influence from Russia. Because one, if Russia was aware that Cohen or Trump were lying, and that was not public information, that could be used as compromising information.

But it also gets to what the president was up to here, his allies seeking business deals with Russia in the midst of a campaign which we would later find out that Russia was trying to influence -- from a legal perspective -- this is something that Jerry Nadler who is going to be the incoming Chair of the House Judiciary Committee said they want to investigate.

But from a legal perspective, are there legal implications, are there laws potentially broken from discussing business with a foreign government, an adversary, in the midst of a campaign?

CALLAN: It doesn't really create any kind of a legal problem in terms of criminality. Unless you lie about it later on, then it can. But a president -- somebody who is running for president can talk to foreign powers -- I mean, people, you know, travel to Israel or Great Britain or France sometimes, pre-campaign, pre-election to their foreign policy credential.

So this goes on, it's not criminal. I think though when it involves Russia, an enemy of the United States for so long, political candidates have been very careful about that. You don't see them making a trip to Russia or you know, getting close to the Russian president when they run for president.

But this president sought to do it. He was working on this massive -- potentially massive project, this Trump World Tower in Moscow, they signed a 17-page letter of intent involving this multimillion dollar deal while he's running for president.

Now it never came out really in the campaign, the president actually lied about it during the campaign, but he wasn't under oath, so that was not a crime for him.

SCIUTTO: Seung Min, the incoming head of the House Intelligence Committee, of course, you have turning over of control there from Republicans or Democrats, and that Democrats will chair these key committees, and of course, Adam Schiff in this case says that he wants Michael Cohen to testify again now that Democrats are in control of these key committees. They have subpoena power.

Do we expect that -- expect them to call back witnesses like Cohen but -- or also Donald Trump Jr. now that they're in charge here, to then test their testimony now that questions have been raised as to whether they were truthful on the Hill?

KIM: I think that -- I think that's definitely a fair expectation. We know that when Democrats were or when they've been in the minority, particularly in the House, they've been very angry and discontented with how the Republicans in charge have run the Russia investigation from their end.

And once Democrats won the majority and it looks like -- and all the chairmen kind of started to settle into place, we know that they say they have called -- they have -- they plan to call a lot of witnesses that the Republicans did not call, to call witnesses again and to be a lot more scrutinizing than they felt Republicans were.

And that's the danger to Republicans here. There are going to be a lot of committees investigating many different --

SCIUTTO: Yes --

KIM: Parts. Well, first of all, the administration at very large, whether you know, whether it's different agencies or the actions of the president himself, but we have, you know, Adam Schiff, the incoming chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Jerry Nadler as you mentioned, the incoming chairman of the House Judiciary Committee making this one of their top priorities in terms of their investigations and perhaps their subpoena power.

SCIUTTO: Yes, it's not going -- it's not going anywhere, that investigation. Seung Min, Paul Callan, thanks very much. Just moments from now, stocks set to soar this on a temporary ceasefire in the trade war between the U.S. and China. But is it a temporary truce between the two countries, all is cracked up to be? We're going to take a closer look.

[09:25:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCIUTTO: Stocks are set to spike at the opening bell this morning after the White House announced a temporary trade truce with China. This morning, the president said that American farmers will be a very big and fast beneficiary of his meeting this weekend with Chinese president Xi Jinping.

But there are significant differences between what the president is saying about that deal and what China is saying. Joining me now, Cnn chief business correspondent Christine Romans, Cnn's business correspondent Alison Kosik is on the floor as well.

So Christine Romans, the president is claiming an enormous trade victory here on issues that are significant, you know, really core differences between these two countries. Was there actually any movement on those big issues --

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: This --

SCIUTTO: That we know?

ROMANS: Isn't a deal. This is a pause in the trade war. All of the tariffs are still on, and for 90 days, they're going to talk.