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AT THIS HOUR

Sentencing Underway for Former Trump Attorney Cohen; Trump, Top Democrats Trade Insults over Border Wall Fight. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired December 12, 2018 - 11:00   ET

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


[11:00:00] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: That's right. The sentencing hearing is underway. We'll get that sentence really from the judge at any moment.

We'll hand it off now. Thanks for being with us today. We'll see you back here tomorrow morning. I'm Poppy Harlow.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Jim Sciutto.

"AT THIS HOUR" with Kate Bolduan starts right now.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan.

It is decision day for Michael Cohen. Right now, President Trump's long-time personal attorney is inside a federal courtroom in New York to learn his fate. Will he go to prison for actions he says he took at the direction of Donald Trump? We'll soon find out.

We'll show you this as Michael Cohen arriving at the courthouse with his family this morning. He is facing years in prison. He pleaded guilty to multiple charges of tax evasion, bank fraud, lying to Congress and campaign finance violations. The last charges stem from hush money paid during the 2016 campaign to two women who say they had affairs with Donald Trump.

Today, Michael Cohen may become the first member of the inner circle to get serious prison time in connection with the Russia investigation. In fact, Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team will appear in this morning's sentencing. No cameras are allowed inside the courtroom. But CNN is inside. We'll bring you the news as it comes out.

Let's begin outside the court, because that is the place we can be, with CNN's Shimon Prokupecz.

Shimon, what is expected to go on?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME & JUSTICE REPORTER: We expect to have a really busy hour here, Kate. We are going to have updates, real-time updates as the sentencing gets going. It's now underway. Prosecutors have started talking to the judge. Essentially, what is going to happen is they are going to make their case. That is the U.S. attorneys from the SDNY here in Manhattan, where Michael Cohen was charged with the most serious offenses, are going to make their case as to why he should go to jail. We also expect to hear from the special counsel's office. They are asking for some leniency for Michael Cohen. We are also finally expected to hear from Michael Cohen. He is going to speak to the judge and make his case, plea for leniency and tell the judge why he should not go to jail. His family is here seated in the courtroom. His daughter, his son and his wife. And then finally, we will hear from the judge. And what the judge has to say about the case and how he decides to sentence Michael Cohen.

Most important, I think, is waiting to see how the judge, how the prosecutors, and how Michael Cohen handle the whole issue surrounding really the central figure in the case and that is the president of the United States. What do they say about him? Does he get mentioned? We know that in court documents he has been referred to as individual one. Do they go further here and explain what his role was in all of this? Does Michael Cohen address him in any way? And how does the judge address the whole notion the prosecutors have argued that essentially what Michael Cohen did here in paying the women the hush money, robbing the people the right to know what was going on during the election, how does the judge react to that? All of that we are waiting for and how much jail time is Michael Cohen facing? But like I said, we will have real-time updates here as we go through this hour.

BOLDUAN: And, Shimon, do we know, is there an expected amount of time that we think this is all going to last? How long the judge is going to be speaking?

PROKUPECZ: So we don't -- he is facing up to five years. Michael Cohen's attorney has argued he should see no jail time and should serve time served and be let out free and not have to do any jail time. We don't know where the judge goes with this. Prosecutors from the southern district of New York have argued that they want to see Michael Cohen face a substantial amount of jail time. We'll see where that goes.

Just to update our viewers, we are being told that Guy Petrillo, Michael Cohen's attorney, is now speaking on his behalf addressing the judge. We don't know what he is saying.

Like I said, we are getting real-time updates. We will keep you posted here as things move along here within this hour.

BOLDUAN: Thanks so much, Shimon.

Shimon will stick right there. He will bring us the updates as they come out.

Joining me to discuss all of this and what is an important hour, CNN legal analyst and former federal prosecutor, Shan Wu, is here. CNN political director, David Chalian, is here. CNN national political correspondent, M.J. Lee, and CNN legal analyst, Elie Honig, former federal prosecutor with the southern district of New York.

Guys, thank you all so much for being here. Elie, Shimon laid out the players who are in the room. You have been

in the room before. What are you most interested in hearing? Is it the judge? Is it from Guy Petrillo? What is going to happen right now?

ELIE HONIG, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Sentencings are really grave and serious events. It's hard to understand unless you've been there. The courtroom will be packed today with not usually media, but there will always be family members, spouses, children. We saw Michael Cohen walking in with his daughter. When you are in that situation as a prosecutor it hits you the gravity of it. Someone's liberty is at stake and someone's family is going to suffer.

I think the most interesting to see, what does the judge say. We know where the southern district stands, where Mueller stands and where Guy Petrillo and Michael Cohen stand. The judge is a very tough but fair judge. I expect he will give Michael Cohen a bit of a tongue lashing. He is tough and has very little tolerance for people who are in positions to know better and do better than commit crimes out of greed or avarice.

[11:05:47] BOLDUAN: You have followed Michael Cohen throughout all of this, from the raid onward. His defense, his position, his reasoning for finally fessing up has really evolved overtime. How did we get from there to here?

M.J. LEE, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: One thing that was so interesting about this morning from the little that we got in terms of pictures and visuals is that we saw his family members accompanying Michael Cohen to court, which we haven't seen so far. That has been such a central story line for him as the story has evolved as you said. If you took a look at his sentencing memo from his own lawyers on what they believed Michael Cohen should get -- and remember, they said he should get no jail time in part because of his cooperation with the special counsel's office and other investigators. They also leaned in very heavily into the idea that this whole ordeal has already had such an effect on Michael Cohen and his life and his family members, that they are now subject to so much scrutiny, that this has been such a painful process for them. He has gone through a very painful process, so no jail time would be more than fair.

In terms of his evolution, I think the word that we have been discussing all along is the word that we are going to be discussing more today and that is "loyalty," because from the beginning, we know that President Trump is somebody who is so obsessed with the idea of loyalty. Michael Cohen had said, I did these things because I was loyal to President Trump, and now his lawyers are making that as a legal argument, too. They are saying the reason that he facilitated the secret hush payments to the woman was because of his loyalty to the president. The reason that he lied to Congress about Russia is because of his loyalty to the president. So when we actually hear Michael Cohen speaking in the courtroom, is that something that he is going to address? Will he make the case that that was a mistake being too loyal to the president? How does that unfold in terms of the information that we might actually learn that is pertinent to the Russia investigation? BOLDUAN: Fascinating.

And it hits on a great point, David, which is, how important is today for President Trump?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICS DIRECTOR: It is a day of reckoning for Michael Cohen, obviously. But it is also a day of reckoning for Donald Trump.

And just to pick up on what M.J. was saying about how much has been made of Michael Cohen's motivation of loyalty to the president, I'm seeing from inside the courtroom our reporter is reporting that the argument that Cohen's lawyers are making is that Cohen knew the president might shut down the investigation and that is part of his motivation as to why he came forward when he came forward. In addition to the loyalty of why he did what he did, the decision to start working with investigations now, Petrillo is making the case in court, again, looking for leniency here, that he did so with knowledge that the president might try to shut down the investigation.

As you know, Kate, President Trump said all Michael Cohen is doing is just trying to get himself out of trouble, get a shorter sentence as much as humanly possible. He is not to be trusted. Rudy Giuliani has attempted to discredit him. None of that changes the fact that both Michael Cohen and southern district of New York have clearly stated to the court that Donald Trump's direction of these crimes is part of the story here. The president is fully implicated in what has gone on here as to what Michael Cohen is being sentenced for today.

BOLDUAN: Let's go back to the courtroom.

Shan, hold on with me.

I want to get more color from what is going on inside. David Chalian was touching on it just a bit.

Shimon Prokupecz outside the courtroom for us.

Shimon, what are you hearing?

PROKUPECZ: Just to let our viewers know, I'm looking at my phone because we're getting real time updates. Michael Cohen's attorney, as David noted, is speaking now to the judge, pleading essentially Michael Cohen's case, talking about what he knew might happen, what Michael Cohen knew might happen if he came forward, saying that the president could have shut down the investigation. He is now telling the judge he came forward -- this is by Petrillo -- he came forward to offer evidence against the most powerful person in our country, is what Michael Cohen's attorney is now arguing to the judge.

[11:10:25] BOLDUAN: Fascinating, Shimon, that this is -- we are wondering, are they going to address Donald Trump? And right off the bat, you hear Guy Petrillo --

PROKUPECZ: Yes.

BOLDUAN: Go ahead.

PROKUPECZ: That's exactly it. Does the president become the central figure? He is the central figure of the investigation. Certainly the one going on at the southern district of New York, the candidate, finance violations. Obviously, the Russia investigation. Right now, we are hearing about the campaign finance investigations. And what we are seeing is the president now directly being talked about in this investigation and Michael Cohen's attorney using that as a way to plead his case to the judge for leniency.

BOLDUAN: I want to bring Shan Wu on this.

Shimon, thanks so much. We'll get right back to you.

Shan, what do you make of this that Cohen's attorney is saying that he knew the president might shut down the investigation? That was in his mind when he came forward to offer help.

SHAN WU, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I think Guy Petrillo is selling the Trump point very hard. That is what their focus is going to be, Trump, Trump, Trump. Southern district will look at the entire course of the conduct and they said as much in the sentencing memo.

I think it is important, Kate, at the sentencings, these are very grave situations. There's the evolution of him as a person coming to this point. But our system protects the defendants a lot, due process, presumption of innocence. These crimes that are not violent crimes we have to remember who is the victim? The victim is us. It's our system, our political system. That has been compromised here. I think the judge will take that into account. Because when you look behind the scenes here what is really going on with Michael Cohen is like so many in the Trump circle, he believed he was above the rules, smartest guy in the room, doesn't need to sign the cooperation agreement. He will pick and choose what he discloses. Interesting to think about what he didn't disclose, but the southern district of New York was not having that. We, refer to them as the sovereign district of New York. They were not having that. They were saying, you don't deserve as much credit as someone who has played by the rules and came in to cooperate. You don't get to pick and choose. I think that is the gamble they took and they will call him on it.

BOLDUAN: We'll see how that gamble is going to play today because sentencing will be happening. This court hearing is happening as we speak.

We'll bring you all updates. These guys will stick with me. Additional details are coming out of Cohen's sentencing. We'll bring those to you live.

In the meantime, made-for-TV drama coming straight from the Oval Office. President Trump and the top Democrats in Congress battling over the border wall in full public view. Where do things stand today? If the government shuts down who will take the blame? New details coming in.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [11:17:42] BOLDUAN: Donald Trump's personal long-time attorney,

Michael Cohen, is facing up to five years behind bars. He is in that federal courtroom right now to learn his fate.

Shimon Prokupecz is outside the courtroom with more updates coming from inside that courtroom.

Shimon, what are you picking up?

PROKUPECZ: Guy Petrillo, Michael Cohen's attorney, still addressing the judge. He is now talking about Michael Cohen's decision to cooperate. What he says is that, "It is in profound contrast to the decision of some others not to cooperate and allegedly to double deal while pretending to cooperate."

Of course, they are referring to Paul Manafort, which special counsel now saying he lied to them.

And then addressing with the allegations that Paul Manafort's attorneys were sharing information that they were learning in these sessions from the special counsel with the president's attorneys. Petrillo is continuing to talk about Michael Cohen, saying that, "He is a man whose first instinct is to help."

So here we see the ongoing efforts by the attorney pleading his case, hoping for some kind of leniency.

We are just getting underway. There's a lot more to happen. We are waiting to hear from prosecutors both from the special counsel's office and from the southern district of New York. Yet, a lot. There's still a lot to happen here.

BOLDUAN: Still a lot to happen and a lot happening right now.

Shimon, thank you so much.

We are going to keep a close eye on this. We'll be back with more updates coming from the courtroom, especially the biggest updates, which will be, how many years, what sentence will Michael Cohen face?

Let's go to other big news that we are following. A high stakes game of chicken, complete with name calling, a public standoff, and a fast approaching deadline, all ahead of a potential government shutdown.

In a remarkable face-off in the Oval Office, President Trump declaring he will be proud to shut down the government if he doesn't get what he wants, more money to build a border wall. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER, (D-NY), SENATE MINORITY LEADER: One thing I think we can agree on is we shouldn't shut down the government over a dispute. And you want to shut it down --

(CROSSTALK)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The last time, Chuck, you shut it down.

SCHUMER: Oh, no, no, no.

TRUMP: And then you --

SCHUMER: -- twenty times, 20 times --

TRUMP: I don't want to do what you did.

SCHUMER: -- twenty times you called for, "I will shut down the government if I don't get my wall." None of us --

(CROSSTALK)

TRUMP: You want to know something --

SCHUMER: You said it. You said it.

(CROSSTALK)

TRUMP: If you want to --

(CROSSTALK)

TRUMP: -- I'll take it.

SCHUMER: OK, good.

[11:20:04] TRUMP: You know what I'll say? Yes. If we don't get what we want, one way or the other, whether it's through you, through military, or through anything you want to call, I will shut down the government.

SCHUMER: OK, fair enough.

(CROSSTALK)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: CNN's congressional correspondent, Phil Mattingly, is tracking this from Capitol Hill.

Phil, it was must-see-TV yesterday for sure. Did it move the needle in terms of the negotiations today?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Never a dull moment. As you know, Kate, publicly, the answer would be no. Obviously, they went into the meeting at an impasse and came out at an impasse and with a lot more public statements, some inflammatory.

If you want to know how Democrats feel after that meeting, take a listen to what Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer had to say on the floor a short while ago.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SCHUMER: The president is so used to advisers, who fail to dispel his false and made-up facts, that he lives in a cocoon of his own mistruth. Leader Pelosi and I had to tell him, no, Mr. President, that is not true. We had to puncture that cocoon. And he threw a temper tantrum because of it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTINGLY: Emboldened is probably a good way to describe Democrats coming out of the meeting. They went in saying they were not going to give a dime more than the $1.3 billion in current funding for border security. The president's ask is $5 billion.

Kate, you've wandered the marble hallways to know how it works. Often it starts with a bad meeting or a blowup meeting for folks to get everything out there and then to start to calm down and start to have discussions. There's legislative movement that could start the process. House Republicans are considering putting a bill on the floor that would give the president the $5 billion he wants. It's a question of whether or not that will pass. In the Senate, it has no future. But it starts the process. Often, as you know, Kate, you have to show something can't work to sit back and start to reach an agreement.

Here is one key piece of advice I have been talking to folks about. Ten days, which is the deadline they have right now, is a lot of time to reach a deal on something. The issue that they have right now is that politically in both sides with both bases where President Trump stands with his and where Democrats stand with theirs is very advantageous. Nobody wants to budge. Nobody wants to move. And given the fact the government shutdown wouldn't be a complete government shutdown, but only about 25 percent of the government, people feel like the disruption might not be that bad. There's clearly off-ramps and ways to get out of this. Will they reach that point? Yesterday, I would say it doesn't look like it. But keep an eye on this. There's a lot of time. People will start talking sooner rather than later -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: This is a mess. This is a mess. I'm just going to declare it now. We'll see exactly how much of a mess that we are having to mop up later on.

Thank you, Phil. Let's get back to you. Appreciate it, buddy.

Joining me now to talk about this mess, Chris Cillizza, CNN politics reporter and editor-at-large, and Eliana Johnson, CNN political analyst, White House reporter for "Politico."

Great to see you guys.

Eliana, we have all seen this movie before. The movie that you are looking at right now, are you seeing this as this is the darkest before the dawn? Or is this thing headed for a brick wall? What do you think right now? ELIANA JOHNSON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think this is a slightly different movie than we've seen. Normally, when these negotiations take place, neither side wants to shut down the government. Particularly, the side that is in power. In this case, the Republicans are afraid of getting blamed for a shutdown. In this case, Donald Trump said he would be proud to shut down the government over border wall funding. He seems to think this is a politically winning issue for him. I don't think I have ever seen that before. So I think he also put himself in the position of looking weak if he caves without that $5 billion in border wall funding. Relatively unprecedented but Trump is an unconventional leader who does things that nobody expects. I do think that makes a shut down a bit more likely.

BOLDUAN: Chris, John Kennedy, Republican Senator, thinks a shutdown is what is happening. At least, that is what he is saying today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN KENNEDY, (R), LOUISIANA: I think we are going to have a shutdown. I do. And I think we will have a shutdown for two reasons. Number one, President Trump does not look like he was bluffing or is bluffing. Number two, I don't think Speaker Pelosi is going to agree to anything because she's worried about her speakership.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: I think there's a good bit of bluffing on all sides. This might be a different movie that we are seeing. Does one party get the blame? Can one party escape blame?

[11:24:48] CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS REPORTER & CNN EDITOR-AT- LARGE: One party will bear the lion's share of the blame. The question is, how much blame and how long lasting it is. Eliana makes a really good point. Trump plays the politics of his base, always has. His base doesn't care if the government shuts down. It might cheer it, if it means him standing firm on getting the wall. Trump believes that is the fundamental promise he made to his base.

The other thing to remember, this Congress that is going to vote or not vote on a shutdown, Kate, is not the Congress that is coming in in the 116th in January. A lot of the people are on the way out on the Republican side. Do they stay loyal to Trump? Many of them lost in marginal districts. Do they blame Trump and not help him? It's hard to know.

I would say, if they shut down politically speaking could be not all that impactful, this would be sort of the time to do it, around the holidays, not most of the government. And a long, long time from an election.

BOLDUAN: Because, for once, Congress did its job and passed more appropriations bills.

Eliana, let me play a small moment for you. This is another key moment from the Oval Office, Nancy Pelosi and Donald Trump. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I also know that Nancy is in a situation where it's not easy for her to talk right now. I understand that. I fully understand that. We will have a good discussion and we are going to see what happens.

(CROSSTALK)

TRUMP: But we have to have border security.

REP. NANCY PELOSI, (D-CA), HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: Mr. President, please don't characterize -- as the leader of the House Democrat who just won a big victory.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: After that, the "Atlanta Journal Constitution" has quite a political cartoon to show you. We'll put it up on the screen. It is Nancy Pelosi has become Donald Trump's fall. Is that what you see?

JOHNSON: That was an incredible moment where Trump tried to suggest that Pelosi is in a weak negotiating position because she is in the middle of a speakership race. But I don't think that is quite the case. She seems to really have wrapped up the Democratic support she needs and looks to become the next speaker. She called his bluff right on camera as he was trying to call hers. I think Trump is in a difficult position for the reasons that Chris pointed out that the members voting on this loss because of Trump and may, therefore, be reluctant to help him secure one of his priorities, which is the border wall. Pelosi is coming in with the wind at her back.

BOLDUAN: As Phil said, 10 days, as much as everyone would love for Congress to beat a deadline for once. Ten days is a long time for everyone to puff up their chests before they reach a deal which always is as the jet fumes are flying.

Great to see you guys. Thank you.

CILLIZZA: Thanks, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Coming up, we will take you back to federal courthouse in New York. Right now, Michael Cohen waiting to hear his fate. Hearing continuing right now. Any moment, he will be sentenced for crimes committed while working for then-Candidate Donald Trump. New details are coming from inside the courtroom. What Michael Cohen's attorneys are saying. And will Michael Cohen speak himself? That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)