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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES
Mueller: Cohen Provided "Relevant and Useful Information" Concerning Contacts with "Persons Connected to the White House"; Mueller: Manafort Lied About Contacts With Administration this Year; NY Prosecutors: Cohen Broke Law In Coordination With And At The Direction Of Candidate Trump; Mueller: Cohen Was In Touch With Russian Seeking "Political Synergy" With Trump Campaign; Mueller: Cohen Had Contact With "A Russian National" As Far Back As 2015; President Trump: Tillerson "Dumb As A Rock," "Lazy As Hell". Aired on 8-9p ET
Aired December 7, 2018 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[20:00:11] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Good evening.
From the outside, the White House looks no different than it does any other night. For the presidency though, into this president particular, it may be a whole new world. It's been quite a day.
Two sentencing memos in cases against former Trump attorney and fixer Michael Cohen. In one, the Russia special counsel says that Cohen provided new information about contacts with Russia. In the other, the Southern District of New York says the president of the United States took part in a felony. And even though it's an allegation, not a criminal charge, let alone a charge proven in court, it is still quite an allegation for any arm of the Justice Department to make against a president.
As law professor Jonathan Turley put it on another network today, it's as close as you can get to accusing the president of the United States of taking part in a criminal conspiracy.
Then, just a short time later, Robert Mueller's court filing on Paul Manafort landed and it too contained a bombshell. The allegation that Manafort had contacts with administration officials this year when he was the very least an indicted felon.
In all, three documents loaded with telling details about where Robert Mueller is heading and what the president might be facing. It's certainly a lot of information, so we're really going to try to take our time going through each document pulling out the most important parts.
We start with CNN's Shimon Prokupecz who's focusing on the two filings regarding Michael Cohen.
So, let's talk first, Shimon, about the filing by the Southern District here in New York on Cohen. What did we learn from that?
SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Yes, I think exactly what you said it's significant in the sense that it's the first time that the U.S. attorney's office here in New York that the Department of Justice is accusing the president of coordinating and directing Michael Cohen in making those payments. It was the hush payments to Stormy Daniels, to keep folks quiet from revealing anything any information that could potentially hurt the campaign.
Michael Cohen stood up in court when he pleaded guilty the first time and said that, yes, the president -- I did this with the president. But this is the first time that actually this is in a court filing that was put together by the U.S. attorney's office here in New York, and that is what's so significant about that.
COOPER: So, there's also the Mueller filing about Cohen, what does that tell us?
PROKUPECZ: Right. So that really gives us a lot of information on where the investigation is and where Michael Cohen has been helpful, certainly as it relates to the Trump campaign and other aspects of the Russia collusion investigation. And in this filing, it's interesting they use words like the fact that the information that Michael Cohen is providing was useful or was that is information that is at the core of the Russia investigation.
And here's how they described some of the other information he's giving. In one part, they say that the defendant provided information -- Michael Cohen provided information about his own contacts with Russian interests during the campaign and discussions with others in the course of making those contacts. They then go on to say that Cohen provided useful information concerning certain discreet related matters core to its investigation that he obtained by virtue of his regular contact with company executives during the campaign.
They then say that Cohen provided relevant and useful information concerning his contacts with persons connected to the White House during the 2017-2018 time period. And then, finally, they say that Cohen describes circumstances are preparing and circulating his response to the congressional inquiries while continuing to accept responsibility for the false statements contained within.
And, of course, that is the Moscow project that he lied to about with congressional investigators. He also initially lied to FBI investigators. But, you know, when you look at all of this, in the way in which the special counsel describes these pieces of information, they say that it is significant -- these are four significant topics, Anderson, that Michael Cohen has been providing information to them about. And clearly, this is still ongoing. There's still so many questions.
And what this ultimately shows us is that the special counsel is sitting on a lot of information that we just don't know about yet.
COOPER: All right. Shimon, thank you.
I want to move on to the Manafort filing. For that, let's go to Pamela Brown. He's been looking into it.
Explain what you've learned so far, Pamela. PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, Mueller's team outlined in a heavily redacted filing how they believed and why they believe Manafort lied in multiple ways and on multiple occasions on at least five issues. And they say Manafort lied to the special counsel's office on contact with the Trump administration, they say, this year, even after his indictment as you'll recall last October.
He said he didn't talk to anyone in the administration or conveyed messages to them, but Mueller says that is simply not true. They say Manafort told a person to talk to a Trump administration official as recently as this past May, and that he also had contact with administration officials, including a senior administration official through February of this year.
[20:05:04] So, this new and damaging information for the White House comes at a time, Anderson, when every move by Mueller appears to bring his investigation deeper into the White House and deeper into Trump's inner circle and it shows how it is expanded well beyond what may or may not have happened in the 2016 campaign, Anderson.
COOPER: So, did prosecutors say what evidence they had to back up the allegation that Manafort was lying?
BROWN: So, in the documents, they cite electronic documents, as well as a text messages as the evidence to back this up in a description they say they have from another Manafort colleague. So, they say all of this evidence, the text messages, the descriptions from others, provided the corroboration that in fact Manafort had been talking to administration officials.
So, the White House has come out and in this after this and they said, look, this has nothing to do with the president, basically distancing themselves from the Manafort revelations were learning about the communications he had it. It didn't name who exactly it was, but it certainly raises questions, Anderson, of who was Manafort talking to, who was a senior administration official, and what were they talking about. Why did Manafort allegedly lie about these communications?
COOPER: All right. Pamela Brown, appreciate that.
As we said, there is a lot to digest here. We want to delve deeper into it, perhaps a fair bit of indigestion as well for a few attorneys right now. We have our own legal, political and reporting team tonight.
"New York Times" White House correspondent and CNN political analyst, Maggie Haberman. CNN senior legal analyst Preet Bharara, who served as U.S. attorney for New York's Southern District until President Trump fired him. CNN chief legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin is here. He's a former federal prosecutor, so is Jennifer Rodgers. She currently teaches law at Columbia University.
Preet, I'm not exactly sure where to begin but I guess let's begin on the Cohen matters, one involves your old office here the Southern District of New York. What are your big takeaways from what was discovered disclosed today on Cohen?
PREET BHARARA, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: There are too many to talk about in a brief period of time, but the interesting thing is the distinction between the attitude that the former project people in my former office in the Southern District had towards Michael Cohen his veracity, his helpfulness, his cooperativeness and that of special counsel Mueller.
COOPER: Mueller thought he had more veracity.
BHARARA: It was a much kinder and gentler submission on the part of the special counsel's office. My office's submission, my old office's submission, sorry, it's pretty scathing in how they talk about how Michael Cohen brought this upon himself, he engaged in very, very serious crimes, the fact that he was doing this and is going to forego a pardon is not making me a hero, how he was not complete in his cooperation, how the suggestions made and what was a very well-written but ultimately unpersuasive to the government submission by Michael Cohen's lawyer Guy Petrillo.
Their response to that is it was incomplete. It didn't go into detail about all the kinds of things that Michael Cohen decided he didn't want to talk, about the particular way you cooperate in the Southern District of New York, it's a very high threshold. And unlike in some other districts, to get cooperation credit and get the government to advocate strongly in your behalf for a lower sentence, you have to not only come clean about your own crimes and the things that the government charged you with, but also everything that they have not charged you with that you might be guilty of and other people might be guilty of and he refused to do that.
COOPER: So just in terms of how this relates to President Trump, is this -- I mean, the idea that the attorneys from the Southern District do you do you agree that they are saying that the president committed a felony?
BHARARA: They're coming very close. I mean what we had before as that as the preview reporting suggested, is Michael Cohen gets up in court and he says during what's called an allocution during his plea that some of the things he did the payments that he made were in coordination with in at the direction of the president. Those are his words.
The Southern District folks are incredibly specific and rigorous and careful about the language they used, and I would imagine a document like this was looked at, you know, 50 times by lots of people, including all the way up to the acting U.S. attorney himself. I would have looked at the document myself and taking a pen to it.
And for them to leave in the document a statement that makes it clear or suggests that they have reason to believe that these payments were made at the direction of the president is based not only on Michael Cohen's say so, because they otherwise have thought Michael Cohen has not always told the truth and has been incomplete with respect to the truth. So, in the context of they're sort of, you know, laying in on Michael Cohen but adopting that statement and suggesting they have other proof I think is very significant.
COOPER: So, Jeff, do you believe that there -- that is what Preet is saying that there is other evidence that the president -- that Michael Cohen did this at the direction of the president made the payoffs in Stormy Daniels --
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: There has to be because as Preet said, they don't believe him in many particulars.
COOPER: In just big picture, why does that matter?
TOOBIN: Well, because it suggests that the Department of Justice, which is run by the president, now believes institutionally that the president has committed a crime.
[20:10:06] I mean, I can't remember when this has ever happened before. I mean, usually when the president is being investigated, it's been by an outside special counsel and independent counsel like Kenneth Starr, like Lawrence Walsh, like Mueller himself but here you have the Justice Department itself saying that the president committed a crime and as -- I mean, you can be sure that this was not done casually. I mean this is something where there's multiple levels of review and they -- you know, whether it's through emails, whether it's through other witnesses testimony, whether it's through financial records and also common sense.
I mean, how could anyone not believe that Donald Trump didn't know -- you know, didn't order the money go -- to pay the Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal.
COOPER: But what is the crime? The crime is just election campaign violations?
COOPER: But that's not a -- I mean, normally, that's something that -- you know, there's a fine for that.
TOOBIN: That's true. It's -- I mean, it's not it's not the worst crime in the federal code. But, you know, presidents aren't supposed to commit any crime.
COOPER: Jennifer, what happens? I mean, OK, they now believe he committed a felony. What happens to the president?
JENNIFER RODGERS, COLUMBIA LAW SCHOOL: Well, that's the big question, right? I mean, in a normal case if he weren't the president, I would say he should expect to be indicted. But as we know, the Department of Justice has opined that you cannot indict a sitting president. So I think southern districts choices are these: they can try to indict him, they may not get permission from the Department of Justice to do that, and even if they do, well, we'll have litigation all the way up to the Supreme Court about whether that can happen or not.
Or they can just of course wait until the Democratic House takes over and I'm sure that they'll be interested in the evidence gathered for possible impeachment proceedings. That's really their choices. I don't think they have a lot of other choices here.
BHARARA: The other interesting thing about it if I jump in for a second is, it's not only true as Jeff said that they're very careful in the in the words that they use. They didn't have to make the statement about the president. It was not necessary in the document with respect to the sentencing of Michael Cohen to adopt the phrase in coordination with and at the direction of. That's something that somebody decided to do for a reason that's not immediately clear to me, but it's an unnecessary thing for the narrow purpose of what that document was.
COOPER: Maggie, no surprise the president declared himself completely cleared after the Cohen filing?
MAGGIE HABERMAN, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, NEW YORK TIMES: Well, he's not completely cleared. I mean whether he gets indicted I think is a very different issue as has been said here previously it seems unlikely just based on what the Justice Department has said before. The Justice Department has the option of waiting until the president's out of office and doing it then. But that seems highly unlikely based on this.
It is worth noting just to the degree to which they don't believe Michael Cohen but did on this, the Southern District spoke to officials with the "National Enquirer" who were involved in the killing of stories related to these women and that is what some of the campaign finance payments are about. They interviewed a top official at --
COOPER: In fact, they give immunity, didn't they, to David Pecker.
HABERMAN: Correct, and I think to Dylan Howard as well. They gave immunity at least to some degree at least in a narrow sense to Allen Weisselberg, the CFO of the Trump Organization who was the one who was in charge of dealing with these payments.
So, you take all of that together and the fact that the prosecutors said this is the case, and I suspect that the prosecutors feel pretty comfortable that there is other evidence backing it up and then we get into -- this is not necessarily damaging for him legally, it is hard not to see this potentially damaging politically which is what his lawyers have been aware of the president's all along. They've been concerned about this since Michael Cohen's hotel room and office and home were raided back in April that he was going to be the far bigger danger to the president. That case would be than the special counsel investigation.
COOPER: I mean, if they're you're right as then at the very least, the president lied to the American public time and time again on this issue.
HABERMAN: Well, he's also lied to the American public on many other issues. So, I think that that's -- but I think -- and I think that what his supporters and allies and aides would argue and most importantly is you know people knew who he was, they knew all that has passed and they elected him anyway and that is a real thing. But it is -- I can't -- I mean, again, there are people here who've done this in different contexts and longer than I have, but I can't recall anything approaching this about a sitting president.
TOOBIN: And remember, this is not -- we so far we've only been talking about the campaign finance violations. There's so much more that was in these papers including the issue of Russia, you know, which is after all why Robert Mueller was appointed.
Cohen, in the document that's put forward by the special counsel, they say that Cohen told them about repeated overtures that he made to Russia and in some cases with Trump's assistance at times that the president said he had no dealings with Russia. Now, you know, that this is the core of what this investigation is about and now Mueller has said he believes Cohen that there were more extensive contacts with Russia that then had been previously disclosed before.
[20:15:06] That in itself may not be a crime --
COOPER: Put that on the screen just what he says.
He says: In or around November 2015, which is earlier I think that most people realize, Cohen received the contact information for and spoke with a Russian national who claimed to be a trusted person in the Russian federation who could offer the campaign political synergy and synergy on a government level.
HABERMAN: That seems like integrating two different things and you know I know the president repeatedly says no collusion. We don't know who this official was. There's a lot we don't know about what this is describing, although I think it might refer to some previous reporting done in "BuzzFeed".
But it's hard not to see that as some form of an attempted collaboration.
COOPER: Synergy is --
HABERMAN: Synergy sounds a little collusion to me.
BHARARA: I think it's a Harvard Business School term for collusion.
COOPER: Right, the Hollywood term for collusion.
HABERMAN: This goes back to why this is -- I mean, this is -- this is politically very damaging for the president I think that we --
COOPER: You think this actually could like stick?
HABERMAN: I think this could stick, yes.
I think that -- and I -- look, I think that Jerry Nadler when he comes in as the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee is going to have to decide what he's going to do about a potential impeachment effort that I think that a lot of Democrats are going to want to bring. And I think that if you assume that the Mueller report which we believe -- again, we don't know what Mueller actually has or what it's real timeframe is, but if you believe that it will be within the next few months, then Congress is going to have that. They're going to have to decide what to do.
COOPER: Also, Jennifer, just on the metaphor which we haven't really focused too much on as of yet, but Manafort -- I mean, the question is who is he -- who was he talking to in the administration? I mean, the senior officials -- I mean, it's and, you know, it's a pretty late date, he was already under, you know, closely cooperating with Mueller.
RODGERS: Exactly. Who is talking to and what are they talking about? You know, he's obviously giving them information about where his cooperation stands. He's presumably telling them what he's telling the special counsel, feeding information that he might be figuring out the special counsel is looking at.
And then, are they talking pardons? You know, that's another thing that that might feed into an ultimate obstruction investigation.
COOPER: I mean, why would he be talking with someone in the White House possibly feeding information somebody in the White House if he's not guaranteed there's going to be a party?
TOOBIN: There's another dimension in which the two cases come together, which is about the how recent the investigation is. Manafort says -- the Manafort filing says Manafort was in touch with people in the White House in 2018. The Cohen filing says that Cohen has been helpful in disclosing information about activity at the White House in 2017 and 2018. So, Mueller is clearly investigating real- time possible misfeasance in the White House.
COOPER: Let's put that on the screen, what Jeffrey is just referring to.
The sentence imposed should reflect the fact that lying to federal investigators has real consequences especially where the defendant lied to investigators about critical facts in an investigation of national importance.
That's not the right one.
TOOBIN: At two different places, once in the Manafort filing, once in the Cohen filing, it refers to activity in the White House in 2018, which last I checked is this year.
HABERMAN: Well, the Manafort -- remember, Trump has spent a lot of time saying that he barely knows Manafort. He was there for a short period of time and he has really nothing to do with us. And if that's the case, it's really hard to imagine the circumstance under which he was communicating with somebody in the White House.
COOPER: I mean, it just -- it also just shows a certain -- I mean, I think anyone who you know met metaphor and interviewed him knew he was sleazy, but it's a certain level of sleaze -- I mean, he's supposedly cooperating with Mueller, but he's also lying to Mueller and in contact with people in the White House and the president is now, you know, openly talking about, you know, pardon is not off the table. It's just --
HABERMAN: The president's lawyer had to discuss the possibility of a pardon --
HABERMAN: -- with Manafort's lawyer even before Manafort agreed to cooperate, and as my colleague Mike Schmidt and I wrote, Manafort's team was providing information still to Trump's folks and yes, it was part of a JDA and JDAs are normal, but our understanding is it's pretty unusual to do that much of a reveal. So --
COOPER: So, can anything happen to Manafort on this run? I mean, if he's just going to get pardoned?
TOOBIN: Well, I mean, there's nothing Mueller can do about a pardon. If he's going to get pardon, and he's going to get a pardon. What's clear is that he's going to get no benefit from his cooperation and could get a very large long sentence, especially because he's got to face two judges. He's got to face the judge in the District of Columbia and the judge in Virginia.
So, I mean, he's in a miserable shape. I mean, why he chose to -- you know, he signed a cooperation agreement and then lied? It shows arrogance --
COOPER: Would a pardon apply to both charges in District of Columbia and Virginia?
[20:20:01] TOOBIN: Absolutely. Yes. I mean, the judges -- neither judge is in any position to give him any credit because he doesn't deserve any credit.
COOPER: But if the president pardoned him, it would impact both?
TOOBIN: Of course. Yes, any, any -- pardon wipes the slate clean.
BHARARA: I mean, the president could presumably pardon for one but not the other but that would make no sense.
COOPER: Right. HABERMAN: Is there -- is there a theory as to why he was not charged
with lying again?
BHARARA: I mean, look, sometimes people do things when they're out on bail that could constitute separate crimes or they engage in other bad conduct when they're trying to engage in a cooperation agreement and prosecutors sometimes make the decision that we're going to you know bring extra counts, it requires going to a grand jury and potentially having to go to trial on those things and sometimes people make a determination that you have sufficient guilty counts either through conviction at trial or by guilty plea that you're not going to really add that much to the picture for the judge and you can argue all those things as relevant conduct in connection with your submission to the court as they did here.
COOPER: It's also interesting, Jennifer, because the president has been arguing that Michael Cohen has been saying all these things to avoid going to jail. That's certainly not the outcome of this.
RODGERS: Not at all, not at all. And, you know, in fact, you know, I agree with Preet that the Cohen's lawyer submission was a good submission and powerful, and then you've got the prosecutors one today which is just -- you know, the polar opposite.
So, you know, they want him to get very little benefit from his cooperation in a matter of a few months you know was all that the SDNY says that he should get off. So, you know, he's looking at going to prison for four years or so which is, you know --
COOPER: With Cohen -- I mean, you know, obviously, the president and others and the Trump team have been painting Cohen as a liar. The problem is Cohen has lied repeatedly. I mean, he's lied on television, he lied during the campaign as a surrogate, he would say the most you know kind of absurd things, which were just clearly --
TOOBIN: I mean at any time you have a cooperator in criminal cases, they almost always have terrible conduct in their past. Lying is often the least of it, but it's often part of it. And the question prosecutors often ask in summation is -- well, you know, we didn't pick the witness. We didn't decide who the witness was going to be in this case. The defendant picked the witness. He's the one who chose his trust, and Michael Cohen --
COOPER: Not just for a few months.
COOPER: I mean, years and years.
TOOBIN: And Paul Manafort. I mean, look at the crew who was around the president.
COOPER: Only the best.
TOOBIN: Only the best and, you know, how many of them are heading off to prison or, you know, getting convinced you know having felony convictions. You know, his national security adviser, his campaign chairman, his personal attorney -- I mean, that's a lot of people and they were all chosen by Donald Trump.
HABERMAN: Right. The thing is too is that the argument that you will hear from the president's team is these are all people who were -- except for Cohen which was a series of crimes that he pleaded guilty to and one that relates directly to the president. But that everybody else it has been a process crime basically, that it was people who were lying to investigators. That's still a crime and that's still that still something you're not supposed to do because -- just one second, Jeff -- because everybody has in this connected to this almost everybody has told a series of lies. The Mueller investigation and these charges in particular that he has laid out have become one of the only ways for the public psyche to weed out what is actually real and what isn't.
TOOBIN: I've been around this world for like my whole career, I'd never heard the phrase process client crimes until this week, the idea that this is some lesser crime. You know what a process crime is, it's a crime, and the idea that it's somehow not as bad as some other crimes -- I mean, it is just the most ridiculous kind of spin.
BHARARA: You can argue about that a little bit, whether it's more serious or less serious and Jeff is absolutely correct that most cooperating witness by definition if they pled guilty to something and they're testifying against someone else, they had bad conduct in their background. That's all true.
Sometimes, it's the case that the worst conduct that can be in your background for purposes of being a witness is not that you killed somebody, is not that you robbed somebody, but that you lied, because the next trial they're going to testify at to try to get you know substantial assistance and credit for themselves and prove that this other person is guilty, lots and lots of people who committed violent acts are totally believable. And the problem with people who even one after the other -- this crew you're talking about -- are a set of convicted liars in many instances and otherwise provable liars is that there's a little bit of a veneer of protection the Donald Trump has ironically by surrounding himself with rogues who lie all the time and say they're liars and then they go out in the world they decide to flip against the president and the president legitimately can say they're liars and the president's lawyers can legitimately say they're liars, even if they haven't committed some violent crime.
It builds -- you know, in the ears of jurors later, they think it's liar after liar after liar, I don't believe them.
COOPER: I keep -- it's not going to end up like this, but I keep imagining the prison scene in "Goodfellas" were like Pauly's breaking the bread and somebody brings the prosciutto and they're like --
COOPER: It's like Manafort is there, Michael Cohen there. Michael Cohen is talking somewhere.
[20:25:00] It's not going to be like that but anyway.
We got to take a quick break.
Coming up next, late reaction from the White House, including a tweet from the president that has to be seen to be believed.
Also tonight, chief of staff John Kelly, is he about to head for the exit?
And former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, his pretty shocking claims about the president and law breaking and the president's not so shocking bruising reply.
That amore as a very big night rolls on.
COOPER: Well, given all we've been talking about before the break, you would think the president of the United States would be at least a little concern tonight. Just a short time ago, he reacts on Twitter and with a statement from his press secretary.
Jim Acosta is at the White House with the latest.
So, what's the president been saying?
JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, you contrast the president's tweet this evening with what he was doing earlier this morning, which was more of a tweet storm, it's a pretty big contrast. We can put the tweet up on screen. It's about six words and he basically was responding to the Cohen filing we believe by the special counsel's office if you go by the timing of this tweet.
It says: Totally clears the president. Thank you, exclamation point.
Obviously, the president is still trying to wage this battle on the court of public opinion. But when you go through the Manafort filing and with all of those redactions -- when you have that many redactions, the court of public opinion is not where you should be worried about at that point, it's actual federal court. And so I think at this point to say the President is in the clear is obviously not dealing with reality at this point.
COOPER: And has the White House, you know, Sarah Sanders, had anything else to say?
ACOSTA: Yes. About an hour ago, Anderson, the White House press secretary did put out a couple of statements and we can show those on the government's filing, in the Mr. Manafort's case she had this to say.
"The government's filing in Mr. Manafort's case says absolutely nothing about the President. It says even less about collusion and is devoted almost entirely to lobbying related issues. Once again the media is trying to create a story where there isn't one."
And then on the Cohen one it says, "The government's filings in Mr. Cohen's case, Anderson, tell us nothing of value that wasn't already known. Mr. Cohen has repeatedly lied and as the prosecution has pointed out to the court, Mr. Cohen is no hero."
Anderson, just a couple of things. I mean, on the Manafort case, obviously, you know, when Sarah says that the media is trying to create a story here, no, the story obviously tonight is what was filed by the Special Counsel's Office in federal court. And if you look at sort of -- if you lay the Manafort filing on top of the Cohen filing, what you have here is the Special Counsel's Office and you've been talking about this for some time now concerned about contacts with either people close to the White House or senior administration officials. I mean, those are both items in both of those filings dating into the Trump administration.
And so the Special Counsel's Office is interested in things not just that occurred during the 2016 campaign with respect to contacts with the Russians, but contacts that Cohen and Manafort may have had with people inside the administration. Obviously the President is not in the clear tonight, Anderson.
COOPER: Yes. Jim Acosta, thanks very much. So basically nothing to see here, good night everybody. Thanks very much. I don't know.
Back to Maggie Haberman, Preet Bharara, Jeff Toobin, Jennifer Rodgers. Maggie, I mean, when -- you know, in the filing saying that one of the people in the White House that Manafort was in contact with was a senior administration official, that's not a huge group of people.
MAGGIE HABERMAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: No, it's a very narrow group of people and you would have to assume. And, again, we don't know who it is and we don't know what was said. It could have been fairly innocuous, who knows. But it's certainly surprising that a senior administration official would even be engaging with Paul Manafort in whatever context and it was a very small group of people in that campaign in 2016.
There are not very many people who he would have known, especially continuing into this year. It's a handful of people and most of them are related to the President. So, you know, again, without knowing more about that is, it is hard to assess it except that it's unusual and given how hard the White House has work to try to say that Paul Manafort has had nothing to do with them --
HABERMAN: -- you would not expect to see that.
COOPER: You would also just -- even if they knew him, even if they were friends with him, you know, just from a legal standpoint you would think they would all have been advised do not have a communication with Paul Manafort.
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: It's crazy. It's insane to have to talk -- this guy is -- I mean, depending on what month it was in 2018, he was either an accused felon or a convicted felon.
And, you know, he was in a position to seek out a pardon because that's basically his only hope at this point of not spending the rest of his life in prison. And so the idea that he -- that people were sort of accepting calls from him and being -- I mean, it's you know -- HABERMAN: The pardon discussion had already happened at that point, it's worth noting actually, between his attorney and between folks around the President. That discussion had happened late last year. So this was now in 2018, meaning that ball was already rolling which I think raises additional questions.
TOOBIN: And remember, the President has also very explicitly not ruled out a pardon for Paul Manafort. And, you know, this is -- you know, I don't know if it's technically obstruction of justice, but all this contact between Manafort, his lawyers, Trump's lawyers and the President's statement itself for a guy who is looking at the rest of his life in prison, it's exceeding (ph) beyond belief if it's not actually illegal.
PREET BHARARA, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: It's even worse than that. It's not just that he hasn't ruled out a pardon. The President has publicly tweeted over and over again in a way suggestive that certain kinds of people who are strong, he likes, and certain kinds of people who are weak, he does not like, and has given his own opinion to the court and directly through Twitter that they should have the book thrown at them, which is not a very subtle way of saying not only is a pardon not on the table, but it may be quite in the offering.
HABERMAN: Well, also, just to that note about what the President has said about who he likes and doesn't like. He has said that Michael Cohen made up stories about him. The SDNY document makes pretty clear that they believe that what Michael Cohen said about the President is true. And so -- and it is back up by other supporting document.
COOPER: Is it illegal for somebody to be dangling or hinting or even discussing, having attorneys discuss the possibility of pardon?
[20:35:04] JENNIFER RODGERS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I don't know. You know, we really have never had an obstruction case that was based on the offering of a pardon this way litigated so, you know, we are in new territory here. It could be if it was direct enough, I think, if it was for the purpose of getting him not to cooperate with a legitimate investigation, I think it's possible, but it's very hard.
The pardon powers are very broad and, you know, he would say he was pardoning him for other reasons and that goes back to some of the tweets. The President had said over and over that again that Manafort is being treated unfairly, right? During his trial he kept tweeting, "This is so unfair. This is so unfair," and that's what he said basically every time that he's pardoned someone. "Oh, this person was treated unfairly. I'm going to pardon them." So it's kind of setting the stage in that way.
COOPER: But, I mean, you know, the -- you can't cross straight line, but they're having this conversation and then Manafort is in fact continuing, according to Mueller, continuing to lie to Mueller and not really fully cooperate even though he's supposed to be fully cooperating. I mean, that's --
(CROSSTALK) TOOBIN: Which seems like he is putting all his chips on a pardon, because he is obviously not cooperating in a way that will get him a reduced sentence. What Jennifer was talking about, which is something that, you know, my pal professor, Dershowitz, and I fought about here repeatedly is if you have a power like the power to fire James Comey, the power to issue a pardon, can you do it for any reason you like? Can you do it if someone gives you a suitcase of cash? Can you do it to get out of a criminal investigation? I think no.
But Professor Dershowitz and, you know, people who are more sympathetic to the President think yes. Ultimately that's going to be a question if Congress wants to engage on impeachment, it's not going to be a legal question for the courts.
COOPER: Preet, so if attorneys at the Southern District of New York believe the President committed a felony in encouraging and asking Cohen to lie and pay off Stormy Daniels, Karen McDougal, and there's evidence from -- people from, you know, David Pecker and others, do they just drop that because he's the President and can't be indicted or -- do what --
BHARARA: As Jennifer said earlier, it's -- that's the $64,000 question. And it's unclear given what the Office of Legal Counsels position is and has been for long time. The majority view is that a sitting President can't be charged criminally.
You can wait on it because the statute of limitations may not expire, haven't done the math. You can make a referral to Congress who has the political ability to engage in some punishment for the President through impeachment and trial in the Senate. So there are various options that they have.
I do not believe, and if I were the United States attorney, I don't want to, you know, overstate this too much because I'm not anymore. Given the (INAUDIBLE) opinion, depending on what evidence I had, I would not go out into the world and indict the sitting President of the United States.
TOOBIN: It's binding. I mean, this is a binding opinion on the Department of Justice. They are not going to indict him. That may be a good thing or bad thing but, I mean, the Southern District is bound by this and they're just not going to do it.
BHARARA: But having --
COOPER: I'm sorry, go ahead.
BHARARA: I'm sorry. We keep saying just to put a little caveat in here that the Southern District must believe it be true that the President directed these payments. They never had to prove that at a trial, because Michael Cohen agreed to plead guilty to it.
And there are categories of cases in which maybe the prosecutor wouldn't bring the case but in connection with pleading guilty to other things about which there were overwhelming proof, a defendant might also be prepared to plead guilty to something like this, which is not to say it was a false guilty plea. There's some evidence of it.
We don't know how much overwhelming evidence the government had. And it maybe the case that they're prepared to accept a guilty plea on this issue, on this campaign finance issue from Michael Cohen, but that's a far cry from being able to be comfortable that you're going to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that same thing against the President of the United States of America.
HABERMAN: Good point.
COOPER: Yes. All right, we got to take a break. Thank you everybody.
Still a lot to get to on this very busy Friday. Coming up, I'll talk with a key member of the House Intelligence Committee for his take on all of this ahead.
[20:42:31] COOPER: There's still a lot to unpack from today's court filings involving Michael Cohen and Paul Manafort. Here now to talk about it, Democratic Congressman Jim Himes who sits on the House Intelligence Committee.
So, Congressman, the U.S. attorney's office and the Southern District in New York, not the special counsel, says the President when he was a candidate participated in a criminal conspiracy with Michael Cohen. Do you believe that is actionable by Congress regardless of what the Mueller investigation shows?
REP. JIM HIMES (D), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Well, it's a stunning thing, Anderson. Here -- the Southern District of New York run by a Trump appointee, not Mueller, who Trump of course has tried to persuade the American public is somehow conflicted, is somehow angry, is somehow Democratic, all reality to the contrary.
The Southern District of New York is the first entity here to accuse the President, albeit indirectly, of a crime. It was those words at the direction of the President of the United States. So, yes, there is now a specific accusation of a specific crime.
Now, what Congress does with that is, of course, very much an open question. I would suggest that the answer to that question has to be partly informed by what happens next. What else does Mueller have?
COOPER: The Mueller's filing about Cohen said that Cohen has provided useful information in four significant respects, including the Russian government seeking "political synergy" with the Trump campaign.
The Russian side vowing that a meeting between Putin and then candidate Trump could have a "phenomenal impact" not only in political but in a business dimension as well. President Trump can say, though, "Look, I never met with Vladmir Putin as a candidate."
HIMES: Well, Anderson, it's helpful here to sort of step back in this whole saga. It's helpful to step back and remember what the sort of headlines are here, right? Question is, did Donald Trump's campaign collude with the Russians? Donald Trump's answer to that is absolutely not. There was no contact. I had no nothing, in his words, in Russia. And by the way, everybody who is saying that there might be is lying.
Well, the fact show that pretty much every one around the President is lying and specifically they're lying about contacts with Russia, that's Flynn, that's Papadopoulos. Most lately -- most recently this afternoon we learned two things that Manafort was, and it's a very intriguing thing because an awful a lot was redacted, Manafort was in regular contact with an individual name Kilimnik who would have appeared to have connection to Russian intelligence, we learned that.
And we learned that Michael Cohen in a completely separate filing was having contacts as early as November 2015 with Russians who as you point out are offering this weird word synergy, but that certainly sounds like cooperation to me.
[20:45:12] So once again, big picture here yet another example of lied about contacts with Russians.
COOPER: Yes. I mean synergy is, you know, that ridiculous word that for a while corporations were using about when they mesh together, when they combine and, you know, the synergy that can occur. You know, I'm not sure that Trump campaign would like to be saying they are looking for synergy with the Putin administration.
HIMES: Anderson, I used to advise companies when they were thinking about mergers and synergy was always that thing that you put two entities together and both entities were better off.
So, I mean -- you know, again, we can have a long conversation about whether that synergy equals collusion. The point is that this is yet another set of facts that shows that every one, every one around the President is lying about out reach, both ways, with the Russians.
COOPER: So where does this go from here? For people sitting at home who are watching this, you know, it's obviously confusing. Obviously there are, I guess more shoes to drop because there is still seems ongoing investigation certainly in the Mueller side. Where does this go?
HIMES: Well, I think that depends on who you mean. You know, the average person at home, yes, this is confusing which is why I say let's step back and remember what this is really about. You know, whatever else you think of the President, now pretty much everybody, his campaign manager, his trusted lawyer and off a lot of people associate with this campaign are now known to be criminals. They ought to perhaps absorb that.
Look, I think this raises some very difficult issues for Republicans in Washington. Republicans in the House, any way, just took a terrible drubbing in communities like my own where the President is unpopular. It's hard to escape the possibility that in the next two years if this kind of day keeps continuing that the President becomes increasingly unpopular everywhere. So how do Republicans think about that in terms of their instinct to the last two years to whatever Donald Trump says, whether it's about climate change or voter fraud or having the biggest, you know, inauguration rally, do they continue to back him regardless? And, of course, this poses huge questions for Congress. If there are more accusations about a crime by the President of the United States, how do we respond?
COOPER: Congressman Himes, appreciate your time. Thank you.
HIMES: Thanks, Anderson.
COOPER: I want to go to former adviser to four presidents, CNN Senior Political Analyst, David Gergen, and former Obama senior adviser and CNN Senior Political Commentator, David Axelrod.
David Axelrod, the President seeming to believe according to his tweet that today's disclosures "totally clears him." Pretty extraordinary in and of itself since all the prosecutors in the Southern District are saying the President of the United States committed a crime.
DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes. Well, look, I mean, this is not new behavior. This is the same President who said he had the largest crowds ever. And, I mean, this has been a pattern of his. But this was a very bad day for the President of the United States.
And I would argue for the country because we only have one president at a time and what we learned today was that the President was implicated by prosecutors in New York in a crime that he -- and the pieces are starting to fill in on the Russia relationship that are really, really disturbing.
And finally it's the point that Congressman Himes made, which is the people who are closest to him, his campaign chair, his national security advisers, personal lawyer, all lying, convicted liars.
COOPER: Yes, committing crimes.
AXELROD: And committing crimes. So, I mean, it's just a very disturbing picture. So all his happy talk tweets seem absurd in the face of all of this. And, you know, Congressman Himes says, well, maybe people will stop believing him.
I actually accept what the President said, there may be a core group of supporters who view this in a conspiratorial way and will dismiss it. But it's not -- it's getting increasingly hard to do that.
COOPER: Yes. David, I mean, let's put up the screen. The people, you know, you got Papadopoulos, Michael Flynn, Michael Cohen, Paul Manafort, Rick Gates, these are the, you know, the best and the brightest that President claimed, you know, that they're all convicted to plead guilty. The President, you know, who got elected claiming he hires the best. Have you ever seen anything like this, David Gergen?
DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: No, and I hope we never do again. I think the public at this point with today's filings must find it a total morass. It's really hard to sort out what's going on in all of these documents. I do think two things are clear. David Axelrod said, you know, the President is surrounded by liars and crooks, and it leads a lot of people to conclude. Well, if all the people around him are lying and crooked, there is a good chance that he might be, too.
[20:50:06] There are three separate, you know, events or tracks going here, Anderson, the best I can tell. One is the Russian effort to bring the Trump people, to contact the Trump people and turn them into co-conspirators. The second is the Trump effort to, you know, get a tower and all the rest and have these new properties in Moscow, the Moscow project. And the third is the payment to these women, which as David said it's, you know, clearly implicates the President himself in a crime.
But what we do not know yet, and it's still, you know, vital to this whole case is we haven't seen a filing which says there was definite collusion.
COOPER: Yes. David Axelrod, I mean that's -- do you agree with it that that's critical?
AXELROD: Yes, it is critical. But I want to make a larger point, which is there have been a lot of controversies surrounding this President, a lot of controversies lately whether it's Khasoggi, you know, or misrepresenting what happened with the Chinese.
And there is a fundamental theme that pervades all of this, which is we have a president who believes that, you know, that you take whatever you can take, however you can take it and the end justifies the means. And that is the philosophy that permeates everyone around him.
There is this sense that you take what you can take and that's what all of these folks around him now are being exposed for and so it is disturbing. We will speculate on what happens next, what Congress will do and so on.
But the most disturbing thing about it is this sort of amoral kind of notion that rules, laws, norms, institutions are all there to be thwarted in pursuit of your own personal interest and that should be disturbing to everyone.
COOPER: David, I mean, political -- go ahead, David.
GERGEN: Well, I was going to say the public has also seen at the same time yet a new merry-go-round going on with the White House, with people coming and going with Kelly not looking like he's going out the door. But very importantly, I think a lot of people are talking tonight about the way the President, you know, called his former secretary of state he was once touting you're kind of dumb as a rock. I mean, it's just unbelievably insulting.
And along with that, the markets are continuing to go down. These are the things that's been holding the President's popularity up, the sense that their strong economy is strong. We're down at the negative territory now in the standard report for the year, and there are a lot of people watching that and the President's fortunes are tied to that as well as to the whole Mueller issue.
COOPER: Well, also, I mean that the former secretary of state, you know, says what we've been reporting for a long time but, you know, that the President doesn't read, doesn't, you know, doesn't do research and, you know, wants to do things which are illegal. David Axelrod, David Gergen --
COOPER: Yes, strange days. Thank you.
AXELROD: Yes, you know, this is -- thank you.
COOPER: All right.
AXELROD: No, no, I was just going to say for those of us who worked for other president sets really -- that's a disturbing notion.
COOPER: Yes, it certainly is.
Be sure to tune in tomorrow night 7:00, when Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel joins David Axelrod for "The Axe Files," it's certainly fascinating with that. I want to check in now also with Chris and see what he is working on right now. Chris?
CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: The idea that the former secretary of state said, "You know, the President got tired of me being the guy who had to tell him, no, Mr. President, you can't do that, it's illegal. No, Mr. President, that would violate the trades (ph)," and then that became frustrating. It's like what is going on with the rational universe?
And anyway, that takes us to tonight. This stack of papers, let me (INAUDIBLE), this stack of papers is going to make a big difference. We've been pouring over this with a bunch of legal experts who've done these kinds of cases before. There is more information tonight than we have ever had before. We understand better than ever where Mueller is going, why and at whom and we'll lay it all out in detail, my friend.
COOPER: All right, six minutes from now. Chris, we look forward to it. Thanks.
More ahead tonight, first a look ahead to CNN Heroes, which is this Sunday. Take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're humans helping humans, and they need our help.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We are truly giving the gift of mobility.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They're the best the world has to offer.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're building something that matters a lot more than we do.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They're heroes today and every day.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is nice. What is this? What is --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They are going to teaches girls how to program. It is all about solving problems.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We serve anybody who has ever raised their hand to defend our constitution.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My vision was to have a home where women could find safety and find themselves.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Our first goal was just to create this hospital- based intervention.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I want each and every one of them to feel special.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Join Anderson Cooper and Kelly Ripa live as they name the 2018 CNN Hero of the Year.
COOPER: Here once again celebrating the best of humanity.
[20:55:00] KELLY RIPA, AMERICAN ACTRESS: Don't we need this tonight more than ever?
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COOPER: It's a sign of the times that a former member of the President's cabinet said he had to tell the President that some of the things he wanted to do were not legal. And not only did we not start the program with this, we are ending with it, that's a big of day it has been.
Former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson says the President would often say what he wanted to do and Tillerson would have to say, "You can't do it that way because it violates the law." Tillerson also says they had different approaches.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REX TILLERSON, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: It was challenging for me coming from the disciplined, highly process oriented Exxon Mobil Corporation to go to work for a man who -- that's pretty undisciplined, doesn't like to read, doesn't read briefing reports, doesn't like to get into the details of a lot of things but rather just kind of says, "Look, this is what I believe." (END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: The President tweeted that he would accept those criticisms and reflects on them. I'm kidding, of course he didn't say that. He tweeted, "Mike Pompeo is doing a great job, I'm very proud of him. His predecessor, Rex Tillerson, didn't have the mental capacity needed. He was dumb as a rock and I couldn't get rid of him fast enough. He was lazy as hell. Now it is a whole new ball game, great spirit at state."
Dumb as a rock, lazy as hell. Happy holidays everybody. May your days be merry and bright and may all your Christmases be best. The news continues. I want to hand it over to Chris for "Cuomo Prime Time." Chris?
CUOMO: It's all in the delivery, Anderson.
COOPER: Yes, yes.
CUOMO: It's all in the delivery.