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Michael Cohen Sentenced To Three Years in Prison; "National Enquirer:" Parent Company AMI Admits It Worked With Cohen And Trump Campaign On Hush Money Payment; Source: Trump 'Seething' About Cohen, Says "He's A Liar." Aired 9-10p ET

Aired December 12, 2018 - 21:00   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: The news continues. Hand it over to Chris for "CUOMO PRIME TIME." Chris?

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you, Anderson. I am Chris Cuomo and welcome to PRIME TIME.

Michael is going to prison but sources close to his situation say, his story is far from over. You can't look at this like a political story with opinions and pundits. You need to look at the facts. The legalities, and you have to see how the cases are developing. We can do that right now.

The man who was by Trump's side for a decade, Cohen had eyes and ears on personal and campaign events that could affect several big questions for investigators.

Cohen referred to dirty deeds, plural. What else did he cover up? Speculation? No. Remember the tape we played for you here? Cohen said, we're paying for all the stuff, after the President asked if it was just about the two women. What other stuff? The President is said to be seething after the sentencing, calling Cohen a liar.

Well, if that's true, then the company behind the Enquirer is lying, too, because just out today, they admit to acting with his campaign to break the law. And investigators hinted there may be more there. What more might AMI CEO David Pecker spill? He is cooperating. Could he be even more crucial than Michael Cohen? We'll tell you why that could be. So much to test. We've done the work. Let's get after it.

This is not just about Michael Cohen. There is mounting evidence that federal prosecutors are zeroing in on others involved in hush money crimes to help get Donald Trump elected. A deal was reached with the parent company of the "National Enquirer" run by a long-time friend of the President backing up Michael Cohen's story and leaving the President isolated.

Today, Cohen became the first person in the President's inner circle to be sentenced to significant jail time. He got three years for what the judge called a smorgasbord of fraudulent conduct that includes crimes committed at the direction of the President, a President who still calls Cohen a liar, even though his own justice department corroborates Cohen's account. And so does AMI. It's also about lying to banks and about his taxes that is not related to the President. Now, before learning his fate, the President's former personal

attorney gave a statement to the court that was full of animus for the man he once said he'd take a bullet for. He agreed with the President's take that he is weak, but, "for a much different reason."

He said it was time and again I felt it was my duty to cover up his dirty deeds. Again, plural. He will cover up for the President no more. He is still cooperating with the special counsel, and he has teed up more to be revealed in the public in time. Listen to this quote.

"I'm committed to proving my integrity and ensuring that history will not remember me as the villain of this story."

There's lots of other news breaking in this drama with AMI's cooperation today. The Feds say, listen to this language. "As long as they continue to cooperate, AMI won't be prosecuted." What does that mean? That suggests that it wasn't just about corroborating what Cohen told them.

What else could be there? What else do they know? And it says in the agreement they have to continue making the contributions and making the concessions that are asked for. So there's got to be more there. What?

Let's gavel Cuomo's Court into session. Berit Berger and Jim Schultz.

Berit, let's start with the assumption there's more. Michael Cohen knows more. We all know what rule 35 is under the federal court of civil procedure, that within a year, even more actually, but within a year, investigators can come forward and say, he's been of substantial help on other things. His sentence should be reduced. Every bit of language, every bit of reporting I've gotten from the people around him who say he is banking on that. Do you buy it?

BERIT BERGER, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: I'm sure he knows more. It's an odd strategy to not give everything to the prosecutors right away in order to get sort of the full-blown cooperation agreement and to, instead, give things piecemeal and then really cross your fingers in a hold out for a rule 35 motion.

But, of course, you can't completely rule it out. But I do agree with you, I think there is more out there. I think there's certainly other names that are circling, and I think there are other institutions, particularly The Trump Organization, that could come into the focus of this investigation.

CUOMO: You know, Jim, I'm as quick as anybody to shrug my shoulders, but that AMI deal, you know, they have a cooperation deal, essentially, a non-prosecution deal with prosecutors. But the prosecutors went out of their way to say, as long as you keep cooperating, as long as you keep giving us what we ask you to give us, what else is there?

JIM SCHULTZ, CNN LEGAL COMMENTATOR: We don't know what there is. There's certainly more from Cohen, and we must expect that there's more from AMI. And we don't know -- and it's a really strange deal, very odd. Berit was right about that on Cohen. I mean, he put himself in a lot of risk by not coming to some agreement on cooperation early.

[21:05:08] And the fact that the southern district of New York hammered him today, and the judge hammered him today because, quite frankly, they don't think he helped enough. So that's telling. I don't know what's coming. None of us know what's coming, but certainly there's more.

CUOMO: So, when we look at what happened today, why he got sent away, he has these unrelated offenses, there's no question about that. But it's also clear that federal prosecutors believe what was done to hush people up during the campaign goes beyond a lawyer and his overzealous representation.

Now we see a pattern, Berit. That's why you can't look at this like a political story. And that's why, you know, I stay away from panels on this. I really don't give a dam what a bunch of journalists think about this.

You got to look at the facts and where they can lead. You've got Flynn, Manafort and Cohen who all say now the same thing in different context. Yeah, yeah, I said it, it wasn't true, shouldn't have done it. But I was talking to people at the -- fill in the blank -- administration, in the campaign, at the same time, they knew. Cohen most notably saying that about doing this deal on the hush money, during his congressional testimony, that people knew about it, that he was consulting -- those people must be exposed, no?

BERGER: Absolutely. I think the message you hear from all of this is that both for the campaign and for the administration, the truth just doesn't matter. You see this time and time again, people lying either on behalf of themselves, but as Michael Cohen said, really doing it on behalf of the President. That's a dangerous pattern and one that will certainly ensnare people like Michael Cohen and Flynn who have fallen in to be part of it.

CUOMO: Right. Look, and I'm hearing people on TV very compellingly say -- hold on, Jim, I'm going to tee this up for you.


CUOMO: That, listen Cohen is a liar, man. You can't believe him. They can't rely on him. The President said it didn't happen, he's President of the United States. Cohen says it did, he's a known liar, he's going to jail. Remember the type we played it here first. I fought like hell to get this tape because I knew it was going to be valuable down the road for the exact reason it is tonight. Let me remind you of what was said.


MICHAEL COHEN, TRUMP'S FORMER PERSONAL ATTORNEY: Um, I need to open up a company for the transfer of all of that info regarding our friend, David, you know, so that -- I'm going to do that right away. I've actually come up and I've spoken --


COHEN: And, I've spoken to Allen Weisselberg about how to set the whole thing up with --

TRUMP: So, what do we got to pay for this? One-fifty?

COHEN: -- funding.

TRUMP: Wait a sec, what financing?

COHEN: Well, I'll have to pay him something.

TRUMP: -- pay with cash --

COHEN: No, no, no, no, no. I got it.

TRUMP: -- check.


CUOMO: Now, there's actually more to the tape. But what that showed early on, Jim, was the President knew dam well what was going on here and he knew they had to come up with a sneaky way to get it done, keep it out of the public eye, and there was more at the end of the tape where he says, all right, so we're going to deal with the women, Trump says.

And Cohen says, no, no, all the stuff. And I knew when I heard about the existence of this tape I knew I had it. Because I knew down the road it would become relevant and now it is because the President said first, I don't know anything about this, right? Then he says it was just a simple private matter. It's neither of those things, Jim.

SCHULTZ: So, what it comes down to in terms of the FEC, the Federal Election Commission issues. OK, what did the President know? OK, let's assume for a second that the President knew that this was -- that there was going to be a transfer, that there was going to be a payment made.

OK, did he know that that was something that needed to be through the campaign? Was it required to go through the campaign? Because the real question as to whether this is a personal payment. Would this have happened irrespective of the campaign? Is something the FEC would look at, is to whether it's a personal payment or not.

Now, there maybe other reasons, it might be personal reasons, he might not want that information to get out because of his businesses, it might be because of personal reasons because of family. There could be a whole lot of reasons why he doesn't want this information to get out. So, I mean and it's everybody is distinguishing the Edwards issue.

CUOMO: No, I got you. I got you.

SCHULTZ: Edwards --

CUOMO: We learned a lot of analogy for you guys. Edwards is not a great analogy.

SCHULTZ: And if the question -- OK, but it raises the questions, OK, what did the President know, but what was he advised by his lawyers as to whether or not this needed to be paid by the campaign or not. What was he advised by the campaign? Did the campaign talk with folks and not the President as it relates to how this is all going to happen?

CUOMO: Well, look to that point --

SCHULTZ: These are all interesting questions, but we don't know the answers.

CUOMO: Right, but some of them aren't the relevant questions either. John Edwards is not a good example. There was time there. There was an obvious personal motivation there because of what he was dealing with his wife. This was something he had been trying to figure out long before the period in his campaign and remember he still got charged. But he won at trial. Here it's different.

First of all, put up the full screen for you, Berit, to bring you in on this. In or about august 2015, David Pecker, the chairman and CEO of AMI met with Michael Cohen and at least one other member of the campaign, OK.

Why is there a campaign person involved in something that was just a private matter? And Berit, my point is this. I don't know if it's an FEC violation. I know Michael Cohen pled guilty to it. I think he did that for several reasons. And I don't care. I care about the lying to federal prosecutors.

[21:10:16] The President lied to the American people about this. We know he did. I can prove it to you with that tape and his contemporaneous statements that contradict known fact. But the lying could be what exposes him all the way down the line on this and other things. That's my concern, Berit.

BERGER: Yeah, absolutely. And we've seen that time and again, like you were saying earlier that it really is the cover up that is worse than the crime. That is what keeps, you know, getting people in this case. And just to Jim's point, it is important to mention it doesn't have to be the sole motive of somebody committing one of these crimes that can be for a campaign purpose. It could be a dual purpose.

It could also be because you don't want to be personally embarrassed or you don't want your spouse to find out. As long as a motive that helps your campaign that is, you know, --

CUOMO: Why would David Pecker say -- why would Allen Weisselberg confirm it --


CUOMO: But why would they do it, Jim? What I say is this. I feel for guys like you and Rudy in this situation because --


CUOMO: I got you on that. But look, let be honest, Jim, he lied about it, OK. These guys have no reason to lie about this. They're trying to get themselves out of trouble. David Pecker, Allen Weisselberg, Michael Cohen they would have lied to said nothing else but that we know for a fact it was a personal matter. Right, Michael Cohen's freedom might have hinged on that answer.

SCHULTZ: So Chris, is the issue here whether the campaign has exposure or whether the President has exposure, or whether individuals on the campaign have exposure? Those are the big questions and a lot of those -- a lot of those are -- you get the answers there by the answers to the questions that I asked earlier about who had knowledge and who was advising as to how the transaction needed to take place.

And fundamental question, for instance, you can't pay out of your campaign coffers for clothing and other things to bolster your -- to bolster --


SCHULTZ: And they're considered personal rational.

CUOMO: Look, I wouldn't hyper analyze it. The reason I'm bringing this out and the reason I wanted your minds to put to it and you served us excellently and thank you, is that it's about the lying. He lied about it. I don't care if it's a crime or not. I don't think he's going to be prosecuted. But I'm telling you, I wanted this tape when I heard about it because this is "falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus"-- this President lies about one thing the way he lies about everything.

And these are federal prosecutors. I don't need to tell you guys this. This is your world they come from. You can't lie to them the way that you lie to us. And I'm worried that that is the story we're all going to have to tell down the road.

Jim, Berit, thank you for helping me put meat on the bones. I'll bring you back when we learn more. We all know that's going to happen. Berit Berger, Jim Schultz.

We've got to look deeper in this. There are certain arguments you can make. It was -- to hide it from his wife, understandable. Also to kind of help his campaign, that's about legal analysis. I'm looking at something broader investigative way.

The President has a pattern of saying things that aren't true to protect himself. That's fine here, it's fine if he wants to play you for a sucker and deal with it in the campaign. Not with federal investigators. What more could be coming from Michael Cohen that exposes that the President knew things that he won't own? He says Michael Cohen, I ain't going down as the villain.

There are many more ways he could damage the President, or at least expose the President to have to own things he doesn't want to. I will lay them out for you next.


[21:15:52] CUOMO: Michael Cohen, the President's former personal attorney, is set to spend three years in prison, maybe. I know what the judge said, but it's not over. The sentence could change based on what more Michael Cohen can offer, and there's reason to believe he can do exactly that.

In court, Cohen said, recently, OK, the President tweeted a statement calling me weak, and he was correct. But for a much different reason than he was implying. It was because time and time again I felt it was my duty to cover up his dirty deeds. Dirty deeds. Of course it makes you think about ACDC. But these were not done cheap.

What are the dirty deeds? We know he spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on some of them. As Trump's long-time lawyer and personal pitbull, the man was excluded from nothing, including these key events in the Mueller investigation, all right. The Trump Tower meeting.

We know Don Jr. expected to get damaging information on Hillary Clinton. But the question remains, how much did the President know about that meeting before or after? Remember, at that time the campaign was being run out of the Trump Tower offices.

Cohen was there with the President literally at his seat every day. What does Cohen know as a set of eyes and ears, right at the feet of the President for months, as this was all going on? Then you have the Trump's long-sought real estate deal in Moscow. And long -- it was going on or 10 plus years they were trying to get it done. So it wasn't some new fickle thing. It wasn't something that was Cohen off on a lark on. It was real.

And it showed the extent of the Trump organization's communications with Russia. Cohen has admitted that he initially lied to Congress about how long negotiations went on. Who knew he would lie?

Remember, he says in his proffer, and Mueller says it in there, that he's been helpful with the coordination and development of that testimony. Who did it did it with? Does it include people close to the President? Does it include the President himself?

And were the talks that went on until about June 2016 the same month that the Trump Tower meeting took place part of why Trump was so friendly with Russia from the get go?

Now today, Trump's hush money payments were confirmed as campaign efforts by American Media Inc. That's the company that publishes the "National Enquirer" all right?

Here's what they say that the company paid 150 grand to keep former playboy Karen McDougal's play boy play mate that her claims of an affair from Trump quiet.

Remember Trump repeatedly denied that he knew anything about that payment until Cohen's attorney gave us this recording. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COHEN: And, I've spoken to Allen Weisselberg about how to set the whole thing up with --

TRUMP: So, what do we got to pay for this? One-fifty?

COHEN: -- funding. Yes. Um, and it's all the stuff.

TRUMP: Yeah, I was thinking about that.


CUOMO: All the stuff. What's all the stuff? Now, hold the prompter. Let's just be very clear about something. I don't care about any of this personally. You can judge me morally if you want. That's fine. I'm not in that business.

I don't care if it's an FEC violation or a crime. I still don't know how they indict a sitting President of the United States given the current guidance. They can change the guidance, but I don't know that's going to happen.

I'm talking about the lying. We know the President was lying about this 100%. If he lied like this to federal prosecutors about what he knew and how close things get to him and what else was covered up, it could be a problem. What could all the stuff be that AMI had?

Why do prosecutors say that they're not going to prosecute AMI As long as AMI keeps cooperating with them and keeps giving them what they need. What else is there? What other knowledge on this subject instead of just these two women?

Reportedly SDNY, Southern District of New York, say there may be more criminal exposure here. That's what they say. And that's got to come down to truth telling on some level.

In Cohen's court filings, prosecutors mentioned several unnamed Trump organization executives and employees involved in the scheme to pay Cohen back for the hush money payments.

Now, we know from the tape and we know from reporting that one of those is Allen Weisselberg, the CFO. He's cooperating. Who else? The only people who can authorize those kind of payments are the President himself, his children, or the organization CFO, Allen Weisselberg. And I told you he's cooperating.

[21:20:12] So who else or what else did AMI cover up? Who else was in on this? What else is the President denying? What did he deny to Mueller? Mueller didn't ask him any questions about before the election. What about all of these that happened before?

The more people go down for lying, the less likely others are to keep up a lie. Remember that. One of the reasons that the Mueller probe -- let's use the right word -- rewarded Michael Flynn is because he came forward early and they said in their papers, when others would not. The more people go down, the less people hold up lies because they get scared.

Odds are Cohen has more to share, that there is more to learn. And if the President continues to lie as a first response, it seems reflex with him. The more those lies impact the federal investigation the higher the price, the President may have to pay. That's why I'm interested in this stuff. The patterns of mendacity, as President Nixon taught us during Watergate, it is not the crime, it is the cover up that gets you.

Will the lies come back to haunt this President? And will his boasting about shutting down the government be the win he thinks it will be? Great stuff for a debate. Great debaters, Navarro and Cortes next.


CUOMO: Michael Cohen received a prison sentence today of three years. He's also implicating the President in crimes. How is Trump feeling about his one-time personal attorney putting him on the spot like this?

According to a source, the President doesn't like it. He's seething with rage insisting that Cohen is a liar. But if he's lying, why do federal prosecutors believe him? Why do the people who he did the transactions work echo his claims? Why did a federal judge accepts his plea on those bases? Are they all wrong?

We start our great debate with Ana Navarro and Steve Cortes. The idea of who is lying here, Ana? I believe it is the central question because we're talking about a federal investigation, not a political matter. Lying is different in politics. It's about how good you are at it, how much you do of it, what it exposes you to. Not with federal prosecutors. What do you make of the mendacity moment we're having?

ANA NAVARRO, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It's surreal. It really is like being stuck in some sort of Latin American surrealism novel by Garcia Marquez.

[21:25:04] Look, of course Donald Trump has to be bothered. Of course, he needs to be nervous. Anybody getting investigated should be nervous. And particularly, there are so many people in your close orbit who are cooperating and are talking. I think the problem that Donald Trump has here is that when you've got people who have been as close to him as the CFO of his company, Alan and Michael Cohen, Michael Cohen was his personal lawyer for over a decade.

You realize that's more time than he spent with at least one of his three wives, right? Married to one of his three wives. He knows Michael Cohen and Michael Cohen knows him. Michael Cohen knows where the dirty laundry is. Not only that, Michael Cohen has receipts.

The important part about the tape you obtained several weeks ago is the fact Michael Cohen is showing he has receipts. Remember, they raided his office, they raided his hotel room. They got the paperwork. I guess the reason they are believing somebody has lied in the past is

because there is corroborating truth and corroborating evidence not only in what he has, but what some of the other people are saying you've got a deal here where you've got two liars -- Donald Trump is a liar, we've seen him lie time and time and time again and Michael Cohen has lied time and time and time again. But now Michael Cohen, the guy who is going to take the bullet has the gun pointing at him and is in a real bind and I bet you he's got some evidence. He's got more to show than just his work.

CUOMO: Sources close to him say that's exactly what's going on, that he has more to tell. It is of relevance to Congress, relevance to the Mueller probe. We'll see on all that, Steve.

But just to be very clear, I'm not trying to say that the President is guilty of campaign finance violation. I don't think that's much of stretch to argue but that's not my point. My point is when you're dealing with a federal investigation the rules aren't like what they are here. I find you guys to be honest.

Don't take in wrong way. And they're not the rules of politics. If you lie to federal investigators, you got a problem my brother and that's what I'm wondering, are you worried for the President on that level?

STEVE CORTES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: You know, I'm not, and I'm glad you're making that distinction by the way because listen, all politicians stretch the truth, OK, to be kind; all politicians do, including this President. But stretching the truth in a political realm is not a crime.

Lying to investigators, lying under oath is a crime. That's what Michael Cohen did and had to plead guilty to. We know he lied to Congress. The Mueller probe told us that he lied even to them. They said that in the sentencing proper. So this is a known liar.

He's a snake quite frankly who betrayed the President who secretly recorded his own client -- I mean I know that you getting that taping was a great journalistic clue (ph) but how awful of Michael Cohen if he doesn't type in his client, unknowingly, unbeknownst to the client. I mean, it shows you what kind of character he is --

CUOMO: Or it shows you how worried he was. He goes out of his way to name Allen Weisselberg. You know, he may have thought, you know, some part of him may have like, this is some dirty stuff, I'm doing here. I better cover myself because this man won't cover me, and he's right.

CORTES: Then, as you know, as a lawyer he has an obligation to not do those things. And also the SDNY tries to say that he directed -- the President, then candidate Trump then directed him to commit a felony. I would try to flip that the other way. He was instead relying on his lawyer for good legal advice.

And if the lawyer then gave him what is an illegal path, I don't think it is. But for the sake of argument if the SDNY is right, his lawyer gave him an illegal path. That is from the lawyer as much as on the lawyer as the client.

CUOMO: Right. But you know, look, Ana, when you listen to the tape -- and again, I knew it was going to be instructive just on the line. And that I knew there had to be more there, because there's was just some too much weird language used. And I knew that there was suggestion that it involved campaign officials.

That's the worst fact by the way in terms of the federal election violation is that, it didn't just involve Cohen, there was an election official involved. But I know what people are doing Ana, they're going to say, campaign finance violations, that's what this is about? No, it's about the President's pattern of lying and response to questions by investigators.

And we don't know what he said. We knew he was lawyered up, but he has good lawyers. And he did in writing because he was afraid to face Mueller man-to-man and deal with it under oath that way. He didn't want to deal with it. He didn't want to expose himself to his mouth so he did it in writing. But we don't know that they got their story right because we don't know that they knew what Mueller knew about Flynn and Manafort and Cohen.

NAVARRO: Right. Look, it's obvious that Bob Mueller has been doing a lot of homework. And he's been really setting this case up and he's been doing so with, you know, minutiae in mind.

Listen, Chris, I don't think the American people or the American political class has got the stomach, just a little squeamish about going after a guy over sexual peccadilloes even if it means campaign finance violations.

[21:30:02] CUOMO: I agree.

NAVARRO: We saw it with Clinton.

CUOMO: I agree.

NAVARRO: He committed perjury over sexual peccadilloes. We saw it with John Edwards. He committed, he was indicted for campaign finance violation.

CUOMO: I don't think the appetites there -- I agree with you.

NAVARRO: But, you know, it almost -- when I hear about this, and the more I hear about this, it almost kind of reminds me of Al Capone where they couldn't quite make the case for something else.

CUOMO: They get you on your taxes.

NAVARRO: They all knew there was something else so they got him on the taxes. And to me that's what this is looking like. But we don't know what else there is. And what so many people in Trump's closed orbit talking and cooperating, and closed orbit for so long. And look, in politics, in life, in business, the people around the principal are a very accurate reflection of that principal. You see it all the time. And so the reason that he is surrounded by all these rats is because he's a rat.

CUOMO: Look, that's what he's going to have to answer for. You don't think that the questions about -- who told Flynn to talk to Kislyak? You know, did Flynn just do that on his own? Two weeks they were processing that situation. What did the President know, what did those around him know about Flynn?

Flynn didn't just do this on himself. He didn't want to blow himself up. He didn't have a reputation for that. He was a character guy, Manafort reading with Kilimnik coming and talking to people of the administration. What people, what did the President know, who was meeting with Manafort, why? That stuff gets sticky, Steve, and it gets sticky fast.

CORTES: Right. Chris, listen, I'll be the first to say, you're right, there's so much we don't know. I'd like the people to know all of that, which is why I would tell certainly Mueller to quote the fabulous thunder birds. Wrap it up.

All right, this is going to hunt for two years. It is time for him to issue his report and put his cards on the table. Not a slow drip, not a lot of innuendo and guessing. Those of us on team Trump has been boxing goes for far too long. And this has been hanging like a cloud over this President who has been so effective otherwise but had to deal with this. It's time for Mueller to put the cards on the table --

CUOMO: Right. But you're going to have to deal --

CORTES: And it's time for us, by the way, I think also to be emotional. And I would say to Ana like she now, just in appearance he called him a rat, she compared him to a murderous gangster in the past, she has called him a racist pig on segments with me, enough of the smearing and name calling. We can talk about this like adults. You may really disagree with the President --

CUOMO: Be nice if the President shared your sentiments.

NAVARRO: Tell you what, when you tell the President to stop calling black athletes sons of pitches, when you tell the President to stop calling Maxine Waters and other Congress people dumb as rocks, when you start telling the President to stop insulting Don Lemon and LeBron James and people like me, then maybe, maybe, maybe I will listen to you. But until you do that, don't come here and lecture me on how I should talk when you got -- when you are a --

CORTES: I just did.

NAVARRO: -- a follower and supporter of a guy who insults all sorts of Americans for no other reason than not agreeing with him.

CORTES: If I called, if I were to call Barack Obama --

NAVARRO: He is a president of the United States. I'm just a TV pundit.


CORTES: I would be fired by the commercial break, OK. Yet you're allow to call Donald Trump that and I think it is insanely disrespectful and not only that --

NAVARRO: Because it's the truth. And because enormous amount of Americans believe that he is a racist, he's a misogynous of sexes, he discriminate and he insults.

CORTES: It's revealing of the obsession that you and many never Trump people have where you are incapable of actually looking at the President and judging the President on true merit rather than just on your emotion.

CUOMO: All right.

CORTES: And that's why I'm saying --


CORTES: -- lay the facts out so we can take a cold dispassionate look.

NAVARRO: You know, let me tell you where I judge him on the children at the border. I judge him on calling African countries shut holes. I judge him on saying that Haitians have AIDS. I judge him on calling black athletes sons of pitches. I judge him on him man explaining and telling Nancy Pelosi to shut up. I judge him on calling LeBron James, somebody who has done much more than he dumb as a rock. I judge him equating neo-Nazis to those protesting against them.


CUOMO: And breathe. OK? I let it go a little bit because there's a lot of emotion in this. Steve, look, you're hoisted on your own petard here, you know, you know that expression. The bomb you're wearing goes up, takes you with it because you can't ask for decency when the man who use support falls below the level that we set.

The lower it gets he still doesn't meet it. When the President of the United States decides to lead on that issue, it will give him and his supporters high ground to ask others to do the same. Your song I like, the fabulous Thunderbirds. Remember the second line, wrap it up, I'll take it. Will you be ready to take it when Mueller offers up what he has? Steve, look, I appreciate you being here.

CORTES: I'm an American before a Trump supporter.

CUOMO: We'll see.

CORTES: I'm an American. I can take it.

CUOMO: We'll see. Ana Navarro, thank you very much. To both of you, have a good night.

The President declared that he was totally cleared after federal prosecutors implicated him in campaign finance crimes. At the time I said, he's never been more wrong. I got attacked for it. We all know that he was wrong and we're only one step into the process.

[21:34:59] We want to talk about what is a crime and what isn't when it comes to campaign finance. You need to talk to this man. He was the FEC commissioner. What is a crime? What isn't? What do you need to show? And what legal questions does he have going forward? Perfect guest. Thank you for being here, sir. Be with him in a second.


CUOMO: What do we know for sure? Michael Cohen's going to jail, in part, for his role with the two campaign finance violations. What's not clear is what else Trump's long-time personal lawyer knows and did for his boss who is now President.

He pledged today, Michael Cohen, to continue to assist investigators to make matters worse for the President, his favorite tabloid company has flipped on him, too, admitting it helped the Trump campaign make a hush money payment and in no uncertain terms, they said we did this to help his campaign.

Let's talk about this with Trevor Potter, President of the Nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center, a former Republican Chair of the FEC. It's great to have you, sir.


CUOMO: Merry Christmas in advance.

OK. So, under these facts as you understand them, exposure for the President?

POTTER: I think clear down the line legal exposure. You and I both know that the Justice Department has a current policy that it would not indict a sitting President. So he is basically in the situation that Richard Nixon was in Watergate of being an un-indicted participate in all of this. What they called then a co-conspirator.

CUOMO: He is individual one.

POTTER: He is individual one. And according to Cohen's testimony, he directed what Cohen did.

CUOMO: And AMI, the parent company, and David Pecker, his friend, seems to suggest the same. They also have Allen Weisselberg, the CFO who was involved in this. He's been cooperating. Who knows what he's been saying? The push back from the President's attorneys?

POTTER: Well, today's big news is the AMI because we read this in the press. It had not been confirmed by the prosecutors. And the importance of that is there is now someone other than Cohen.

For a while, the President has been saying basically he's a liar and there's no proof. It's my word against his. Now you have a corporation and its executives, plural apparently, who were in meetings with candidate Trump and Cohen, and a lot of conversations -- and we know from the reporting that there are e-mails, there are texts, so forth. We don't know if there are tapes on it, but there is now suddenly a lot of corroboration of the facts here that go beyond just what Cohen says happened.

[21:40:16] CUOMO: Right. And we know the tape that we've had of Cohen talking to Trump about this and saying that it was all being set up, Trump says to him, so we're going to do that to pay for the women. And he says, no, all the stuff. So that takes us to this next question, which is SDNY, southern district of New York, seems to think there's more there with AMI.

You've got a non-prosecution agreement as long as you continue to cooperate. And as long as you continue to give us what we ask you for. What else is there? They just put the guy in jail. They're not going to do that with AMI or David Pecker. What is the rest?

POTTER: Well, of course, partly we don't know so we're speculating.

CUOMO: Right.

POTTER: What we do know is that Cohen has said in his plea agreement that he coordinated his activities with senior officials of the campaign. Presumably AMI was in those discussions as well because part of the deal here is that AMI would purchase the story, front the money, which is itself a campaign violation because it's corporate funds, it can't be used for this, would be reimbursed. And there was apparently an agreement all drawn up, a phony invoice that was going to say it was for services rendered.

CUOMO: Trump lawyer say, he never paid them back.

POTTER: Right.

CUOMO: You can't prove that he knew that this was money that his campaign was supposed to pay but didn't. He relied on his lawyer for that. And you have to show that in his head he knew that he was doing this in violation of that law and you have none of that.

POTTER: So, you start with the question with what does AMI say about that, what are their executive say of -- we know -- we're in some of the meetings with Trump because going all the way back to 2014, there was a personal meeting between Pecker and Trump where AMI said it would be helpful to his campaign -- not to Donald Trump as a New York real estate developer.

So you start there. And so the questions becomes in those conversations, can AMI tell us what was said about why they were doing it in October of the election year? Why it was so important to do it in a rush? And, of course, the question is can they say anything that ties it directly to candidate Trump, now President Trump as opposed to just Cohen. And we don't know that yet.

CUOMO: Yes. Another push back is John Edwards, same thing, he beat it at trial. This is the same thing that John Edwards did.

POTTER: Right. So you start with the fact that John Edwards was indicted, prosecuted for this, that a federal judge held that this was a crime, if committed by Edwards, so it could go to the jury, paying hush money to somebody. The factual difference is, I think here, are harmful to Trump. Because the factual differences are that the Edwards payments were to someone who had just had his child.

CUOMO: Right.

POTTER: And so Edwards argued it was child support. There was no threat to go to the press by her. There was no hush money agreement. There was no, I'll give you the money if you sign something saying you won't tell anyone.

CUOMO: It's set up as a support payment.

POTTER: It's set up as a support payment at a time before the first primary had even occurred. And in fact, the last payment is made as he's leaving the race.

CUOMO: Right.

POTTER: As opposed to the Trump situation where it's in October.

CUOMO: Ye, I think you do a great job of distinguishing the facts of the two cases. Thank you for doing that.

POTTER: Well, I think the jury would do a -- would look at these facts and say they're quite different.

CUOMO: Right.

POTTER: The key thing in the Edwards prosecution, which I think the President's lawyers ignore, is the judge specifically found as a matter of law that it wasn't sufficient to say that one of the reasons that Edwards did this was so his wife wouldn't know. The judge said if any of this decision was made to influence the campaign, that's enough for there to be a violation.

CUOMO: Now, let me ask you something. You're not coming at this as some crazy lefty who wants to see the President go down. When you look at the overall probe, what are your concerns going forward?

POTTER: Well, you just have a sense looking at this that, all of these prosecutors. So the Mueller but the southern district of New York know a lot more than we know, and there are other shoes to drop. So I worry that we are seeing piece by piece people coming forward who are going to be put into position where they are going to be questioned by prosecutors, and either have to tell the truth in a way that will be harmful to the President and show that he has lied about all of these matters, and may provide evidence that he has broken the law in a criminal fashion, that he knew what he was doing.

Or if they lie, they would be prosecuted for lying. And the people we're talking about at this stage are the people that Cohen referred to as senior officials of the campaign.

[21:45:14] Now, who were those? There's Manafort, until he left. A lot of this happened after he left. But it's the President's son-in- law. It's Don Junior. The President's legal counsel.


POTTER: There were a lot of people who qualify as senior members of the campaign who may have been part of these conversations with AMI that's what we don't know, but you can be guaranteed that's what the prosecutors have already been looking at. They're close to the President.

CUOMO: Thoughtful and thankful. I appreciate having you on the show.

POTTER: Thanks very much.

CUOMO: Best for Christmas. We'll do it again.

POTTER: Appreciate it, thanks.

CUOMO: All right, so we're learning lots of new things about the President, including a secret just revealed by his son Don Junior. This is a turn towards some levity just so we can all take a breath next.


CUOMO: All right. I have a pretty heavy closing for you tonight. So let's have a bit of breather in between. Christmas is the time of gift giving, right? It's also the time of re-gifting.

Let's be honest. You know people who do it. My family, I don't think anybody does it more. But the President? Does he re-gift? You don't have to take my word for it. You can listen to his own son.


DONALD TRUMP JR., PRESIDENT TRUMP'S SON: I'm the name sake, so I got re-gifted all of the things that were monogrammed for him at times. So there was one Christmas where he may or may not have given me the gift that I had given him the year before because I monogrammed it, and it was like oh, here. I know you didn't get this. How do you know that? Because I gave it to you last year.


CUOMO: Not an easy guy to pin down. D. Lemon, the re-gifter in chief. Do you give him a pass?

DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, of course. I don't mind re-gifting. It sounds weird. I don't really care about gifts. Like I have everything that I want, and so nobody -- no one ever has to give me a gift. I won't be insulted or whatever. I think you can take your money and spend it on other people, spend it on better things. But also I'm the worst gifter of all. Because I wait until the last minute or often wait so late that I don't buy one like the last two years you didn't get a Christmas present, Chris.

CUOMO: You ever regift me anything?

LEMON: No, I didn't regift you at all. I don't re-gift. I don't really -- I'm a terrible gift giver.

[21:50:03] CUOMO: I don't regift, but I have been regifted, whatever the right preposition is. In my family, it is rampant.

LEMON: Is it candles? You get like the candles?

CUOMO: I'll take candles anytime. I love candles. But my father would get all this stuff with Cuomo on it. And now, Andrew, my brother gets all this stuff with Cuomo on it. So they would then hand it on to you or they'd give you like nice plates of something but then on the back you'd see what it is. My mother, God lovers, she's the most generous person, but she is a regifting renegade, and the family laughs about it. But you know what, at the end of the day, it was a lot of nice stuff. It wasn't like a pair of socks.

LEMON: It really is about the thought. I know it's a cliche, but it really is about the thought.

CUOMO: Yes. And, you know, now I'm desperate for that stuff. Anything from my pop now, you know, I want.

LEMON: You let me borrow your pop's handkerchief the other night which is -- or pocket square, which I thought was very kind and generous of you.

CUOMO: For you, anything.

LEMON: I got to tell you tonight, Chris, everywhere I go, do you know what people talk about?

CUOMO: The handoff between me and you on the show.

LEMON: Right. I mean every single place. I was at the RFK tonight in town. I saw the former President, which everybody there was calling the forever President, Barack Obama. Man, he looks good. He walked into the room. He's like, I don't have a care in the world.

CUOMO: No stress. Yes, that's right.

LEMON: He looks really good. But that's all people talked about. Hey, I'm sorry you're sick. I saw you and Chris talking. I love you and Chris, you're a bromance or whatever. It's like, it's not a bromance. I don't like the guy at all.

CUOMO: Listen, you know what you're smart enough to know who is out of your depth, and I respect that. It doesn't mean we can't be friends.

LEMON: Why do you think people like it so much?

CUOMO: It's real, brother. They know we're friends. They know it's just like this we went out on TV. We're just crazy enough to do it the same way on TV.

LEMON: Nanchuck went over well.

CUOMO: You were right about that, mine were terrible. You really saved me on that. What do I have, I had Pelumer and Shumelosi something like that.

LEMON: Pelumer and Shumelosi I was -- come on Chris.

CUOMO: But yours was great. Nanchuck was perfect.

LEMON: I'm going to be better just because we did this. I promise everybody, I know, including you going to be better at gifting this year. I still haven't done my Christmas cards, so.

CUOMO: My daughter, Bella, says you're a gift every night.

LEMON: See? What else.

CUOMO: What does she know? She's probably vaping.

LEMON: That's your daughter.

CUOMO: I'm kidding. I'll see you at the top of the show.

LEMON: We've got a lot coming up. I won't even go there. You shocked me. Don't take that from him. You're a bad dad. Get out of here. Get off the screen.

CUOMO: It's my screen. There you go. You lose.

All right. I want to get back to what really is heavy here tonight. Again, I'm not trying to dismiss legal exposure. I'm trying to be practical about what happens in these kinds of investigations. When you lie, you lose with federal investigators.

You see it time and again. What did Flynn get? It's just lying, right? I'm not saying it's just lying. That's all it was. There was no deeper crime. They let him go on the lobbying stuff. Trump, you're going to see with Cohen, same thing. So I want to show you what we're seeing here and where it can lead, next.


[21:55:24] CUOMO: We are told the President is seething and calling Michael Cohen a liar. That is a common response from him about his former lawyer.


TRUMP: What he's trying to do is get a reduced sentence, so he's lying about a project that everybody knew about. He's got himself a big prison sentence, and he's trying to get a much lesser prison sentence by making up a story. So very simply, Michael Cohen is lying.


CUOMO: It's not new as a tactic, but I've always harped on the President's lying, and now you're going to see why. Investigators like the ones involved here feed on lies, and the President is exposed to more trouble from the southern district and the broader Mueller probe because of his insistence on denying what can now be shown as fact. Take the instant situation.

What could Cohen be lying about with respect to the President? Did Cohen pay the women to help himself? It's absurd. Did he lie about the President knowing? We played you the tape on this show, which prosecutors have and which proves 100% that Trump knew. Here was the lie.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. President, did you know about the $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels?

TRUMP: No. No.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Then why did Michael Cohen make this, if there was no truth to the allegations.

TRUMP: Well, you'll have to ask Michael Cohen. Michael is my attorney and you'll have to ask Michael Cohen.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you know where he got the money to make that payment?

TRUMP: No, I don't know.


CUOMO: He lied. The tape proves it. AMI, the Enquirer's parent company, confirmed it to investigators. They hid the stories to help the campaign, and the President knew, and he lied.

The President's cover stories have gotten more obvious now that he has to own the obvious truth that he was all about the payments during the campaign. He tells a new cover story. It was a simple, private transaction, only a civil case. He could have paid these women off a long time ago if it was just to keep it private, but he did it during the campaign, and there was nothing simple about it. Cohen had dummy corporations. He had a financing scheme.

AMI had a whole system of hiding and cutting deals, taking payments. That's that. Why has nothing to do with Russia? Well, let's look at Russia. Is Cohen lying about trying to get this deal? Then why do the investigators have so many communications from him with Russians about trying to get this deal that might have involved financing from Russian institutions that were under sanctions?

Why did the President sign the letter of intent? Why did the President say to you that he decided not to do the deal himself if there never was a deal? This was the lie. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I have nothing to do with Russia. To the best of my knowledge, no person that I deal with does.


CUOMO: Best of my knowledge. That's not true either even as a hedge. You see, calling things a lie or fake appears to be this President's way of saying that something threatens him, of trying to make it go away. It doesn't work with federal prosecutors.

Flynn, Manafort, and now Cohen all say that while they were doing what they were doing, they're lying. They were in touch with people close to the President, sometimes the President himself.

What did Cohen say to Mueller about what he knew? His lawyers are good. So what did the President say in his responses? He's got good lawyers. But did he coordinate a story with Manafort or Cohen or Flynn? You know, they had some joint defense agreements for a while, but not the whole time.

Did they coordinate a story that Mueller later disproved without his lawyers knowing? What did Cohen hear him say about WikiLeaks? About the Trump tower meeting? What did Flynn tell him about his calls with the Russians? Who asked Michael Flynn to do those?

If he lies about these things, the prosecutors can expose it. Is it a crime? Who knows? But we know for sure it can lay out damning facts that can test our elected officials and the rest of us as well. We may be about to have a real conversation in this country about the value of truth and its connection to justice.

President Nixon, he wound up foretelling his own fall when he said on tape, it's not the crime. It's the cover-up that gets you. Lying to insulate yourself can be a trap. That's what this President faces now, and he is particularly vulnerable to this because of a habit he has developed over many, many years.

The President lies as a reflex. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn't. He does a dance of hyperbole for his rallies that is intoxicating to them. He does it with the media in a way that they chase and are effective about it. But at the end of the day in this context, it spells nothing but trouble.

Thanks for all of us tonight. Thanks for watching. "CNN TONIGHT" with Don Lemon" starts right now.

LEMON: My mom says, he texted me, tell Chris your sister -- I won't say her name, my sister, who does hair by the way, your sister is a regifter gifts she gets from her clients. So, there's a lot of regifters out there.

CUOMO: I think it's fine.

LEMON: You do?