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Sentencing Underway for Former Trump Attorney Cohen; Cohen Speaks in Court & Implicates Trump. Aired 11:30-12p ET

Aired December 12, 2018 - 11:30   ET



[11:32:49] KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news. At the federal courthouse in New York City, Michael Cohen, Donald Trump's long-time personal attorney, waiting to hear his fate, how much prison time he will face in crimes he has committed and pleaded guilty to.

Shimon Prokupecz is outside the courtroom and has been there for us all this morning. He's bringing new details coming in.

Shimon, what is about Michael Cohen's attorney saying Michael Cohen had the misfortune?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME & JUSTICE REPORTER: Yes, this is what he is telling the judge. All morning, we've been saying it will be interesting to see how the president plays in all of this today. He is front and center here in terms of what Michael Cohen's attorney is saying. He told the judge that, "Mr. Cohen had the misfortune to have been counsel to the president." Here, arguing that he was doing this on behalf of the president. The bad decisions that he made, the bad choices that were made in this case, certainly that argument being made, which the government has argued was directed and coordinated by the president.

The other thing, Kate, that Michael Cohen's attorney has said is that Cohen wants to cooperate, but that he is wary of a long-term cooperation agreement for personal reasons and because he wants basically his family -- he wants to put this to rest, to move on from this. Prosecutors from the southern district of New York have argued that while Michael Cohen has said, yes, I was cooperative with them, they said the cooperation was very limited in the campaign finance violations investigations, which is really what the president has been implicated in by prosecutors here.

So again what we are seeing now -- and I believe that it is wrapping up in terms of from his defense attorneys - arguing, continuing to ask the judge for leniency, and really blaming the president in some ways for what is going on here.

BOLDUAN: I'm getting new information coming in, in my ear. Probably in your e-mail as well, Shimon. But I'm being told that the special counsel spoke in court moments ago and said that Michael Cohen has told the truth. That coming from the special counsel in the courtroom.

All right, a lot to discuss.

Shimon will bring us more details as it comes.

Elie, M.J. here with me.

Does this make sense to you that Michael Cohen had the misfortune? You can see what Michael Cohen's attorney is trying to do.


BOLDUAN: What do you make of it?

HONIG: This is standard sentencing stuff from the defense. Pretty much every word that a defense lawyer said at sentencing is intended to portray the client as either a hero or a victim. We see both of them here. The misfortune to work as council to the president, as if he was forced or drafted.


HONIG: He chose to do it. It was the greatest career opportunity of his life. And remember how enthusiastic he was about it.


HONOG: And so who, and all that stuff. And he chose to do it. He is an intelligent guy and has to live with the consequence.

We see the hero part of it, too, his first instinct is to help. The prosecutors are sitting there, eyebrows go up. To help who? To help himself. Who is he trying to help when he lied to Congress? Who was he trying to help when he violated the campaign finance rules and influenced the presidential elections? It's fairly standard defense stuff. I look for a harsh rebuke from the southern district.

BOLDUAN: M.J., hold on one second.

David Chalian, let me get you in on this.

Talking about campaign finance violations. President Trump, his defense, I guess we can say, in the Reuters interview he did yesterday when it comes to campaign finance violations, he said, "Number one, it wasn't a campaign contribution. If it were, it is only civil. If it is only civil, there's no violations based on what we did."

OK. It fits into the theme of that is in contradiction to where Donald Trump was at the beginning when asked about this.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: The defense, as you recall, when he was on Air Force One, was, I had nothing to do with this. I know nothing about this.

BOLDUAN: Exactly.

CHALIAN: This is quite a different defense. He has moved as the fact pattern of which he was keenly aware at the time on Air Force One when he said he knew nothing about this. As the fact pattern became public and we have been able to see the facts on this, the president has moved his language to say, well, even if it did, no big deal.

It is a big deal. The timing of this is critical, as well. This was happening right before the election. Clearly the intent here was to protect Donald Trump from a negative electoral impact if the stories from the women were being told. And then, of course, hearing Michael Cohen backed up by prosecutors saying that this all happened at the direction of Donald Trump, named as individual one. That is why this is very precarious for the president. There's no doubt about that. He can try to be dismissive of it, Kate. I think that we are not done today when Michael Cohen gets sentenced and gets his punishment for his wrong doing here. He has pled guilty, obviously. I don't think we are done with the president being out of potential legal jeopardy as it relates to the campaign finance violation.

BOLDUAN: It is clearly top of mind in this court hearing right now.

Let's get back to the court. Shimon Prokupecz is back with some more color from inside -- Shimon?

PROKUPECZ: So Prosecutors from the southern district of New York are speaking. They are the ones that are seeking the substantial jail time obviously in this case.

The other thing I want to note is that it is very interesting that the special counsel, Genie Reed, was one of the senior prosecutors from the special counsel's office, only spoke for a few minutes. In true Mueller fashion, I think there's a reason for that, they do not want to reveal anything. They also understand that when they get up in a courtroom and speak, there's a certain weight that it brings in anything that they do. Every time they speak or file something, it carries a certain amount of weight. I think that that is interesting. She chose not to say much, except that Michael Cohen has told the truth. They clearly are backing him up. They appreciate his help. They trust what he has told him. That is important in terms of the way the judge is thinking about sentencing for Michael Cohen. But I think it is interesting that Genie Reed only spoke for a few minutes and did not go into their case or did not explain what Michael Cohen's participation and cooperation has been in this investigation. There's a reason for it. And I think that is an interesting point that should be made.

BOLDUAN: And I want to read a little bit coming from inside the courtroom, Shimon. Assistant U.S. attorney speaking on behalf of the SDNY, telling the courtroom, "For all the hypothesizing that Mr. Petrillo has done, Mr. Cohen can't have it both ways. There's a standard way the office conducts cooperation. We treated Mr. Cohen just the way we treat every other defendant that deals with the U.S. attorney's office."

Shan, coming up on this part, because this goes to when Michael Cohen's attorney said in court that he wants to cooperate but that he didn't for personal reasons, it makes me wonder what the personal reasons were. [11:40:03] SHAN WU, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: That's right. He's trying to

spin that as he wanted to move things forward and didn't want it to drag out. Getting inside his head, I would say his lawyers and he know this is not the normal way things are done. He wanted to have more control. Front and center in a cooperation agreement is the language that the government, the prosecutor has sole discretion over whether they think he has cooperated or not. He did not want to give the sole discretion. That is still more of the mindset that he can play the smart counsel even to himself. He can maybe outsmart them. But the southern district is not having that. They are saying you need to play by the rules everybody else plays. If you gave us help, we'll acknowledge that.

Notice that we have been talking about them throwing the book at them. They said in their pleading that he gained a little bit of help and they are willing to see a modest sentence a little bit under the guidelines, but not the full downward departure, not the full sentencing guidelines, because they are saying, you didn't do what other cooperators do, so you shouldn't be treated as well as them. And there's another issue there. They want people to play by the rules. They want them to come in and cooperate. They don't want people going rogue like this.

BOLDUAN: M.J., one thing cited in court is that he didn't want to cooperate for personal reasons, citing his family. That is something we have heard from Michael Cohen in the limited number of times that he has spoken out since this has all gone down, is that this has been top of mind for him.

M.J. LEE, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: That's right. Ever since we knew that Michael Cohen was in a good amount of legal trouble, we have talked about his family a lot. He has two children. He has a wife. He is also 52. It is not as though, even if he went to jail for a couple of years, he comes back into the real world an older person. He could argue that he has his whole life in front of him. When he knew he had gone into legal trouble, he wanted to make sure that he was doing everything to ensure that they were not in financial trouble, that he was not leaving them with a huge legal bill that he wanted to obviously make sure that he spent as little time in prison as possible. So the personal story that his lawyers have been telling on his behalf has been fascinating.

I think, in terms of how we look at today, everything is a split screen. There's the old Michael Cohen, the Michael Cohen that clearly lied for the president, did all of these things, and now he is saying he did it because he was a victim. He was persuaded by --


LEE: Right. Very persuasive client, is the way that Petrillo put it. The fact that he says he is the victim now verses the way that he sort of flaunted and touted this relationship that he had with the president.

I think that we are getting more reporting from the courthouse. I want to toss it back to you. But thinking about this is in the split screen of the old Michael Cohen and the new Michael Cohen is really important.

BOLDUAN: It is a fascinating part of today.

Michael Cohen is just about to speak, if what I'm being told.

We will take a quick break and we'll have detail from inside the court. We'll be right back.


[11:47:37] BOLDUAN: We're following breaking news out of the federal courthouse in New York City. Donald Trump's former attorney, Michael Cohen, is speaking in the New York City courtroom.

Shimon Prokupecz is outside the courtroom for us.

Shimon, you are getting detail on what Michael Cohen is saying.

PROKUPECZ: Yes, let's just get right to what Michael Cohen is telling the judge. As soon as he stood up, he told the judge, "I take full responsibility for each act that I pled guilty to, the personal ones to me and those involving the president of the United States of America."

We have been talking all morning long, how will the president figure into all of this? Here we go, Michael Cohen telling the judge that he is taking responsibilities for the crimes that he was involved with. And the prosecutors have alleged, have been directed by the president, by Donald Trump, that he cooperated with on the campaign finance violations. Prosecutors finished by saying what Michael Cohen did here in terms of the election violations saying that the crimes here carried a "tremendous societal cost." And clearly prosecutors are now done. Michael Cohen is speaking. At some point, we should hear from the judge.

BOLDUAN: What impact of what Michael Cohen is saying, what impact that has on the judge's decision, what impact that also has on his sentence, we will soon find out.

Shimon, thank you so much.

[11:49:00] We will get a quick break and bring it right back to New York City courtroom. Michael Cohen's fate, what is the impact and also on the president? Figure that out next.


BOLDUAN: Continuing to follow breaking news out of the federal courthouse in New York City. Michael Cohen just wrapped up speaking before the court, pleading for his liberty and, in doing so, going right at the president of the United States, Donald Trump.

Here's what he said in part: "Recently, the president tweeted a statement calling me weak, and it was correct, but for a much different reason than he was implying. It was because, time and again," Michael Cohen says, "I felt it was my duty to cover up his dirty deeds."

Shimon Prokupecz is outside of the courthouse.

Shimon, no question who Michael Cohen is pointing the finger at as he's trying to save his tail today.

PROKUPECZ: And what dirty deeds is he talking about? We know one he's alleged, and prosecutors have alleged, and those are the campaign finance charges. But all said for so long that Michael Cohen has been the fixer, the guy to come in and clean things up for the president. What else is he talking about? We don't know because he's refused to cooperate on other matters.

The judge is speaking. We'll get word on what he's saying, but we don't have that just yet.

But I also want to talk about what Michael Cohen referred to as he was ending his statement to the judge. He referred to a tweet where Trump called him a rat and a liar and what Michael Cohen said was, not only is this improper, "but it creates a false sense that the president," Kate, "can weigh in on judicial proceedings that implicate him."

So really, Kate, as we've been saying, Michael Cohen going at it, directly towards Donald Trump, not holding back, having his moment, putting everything on the president.

[11:55:17] BOLDUAN: Shimon, more coming in. Look at your iPhone when you get a second.

While we wait for the big news coming out, my panelists, who have been sticking with me this whole hour.

Elie, I'm struck. I know M.J. was saying the same thing. Is the judge swayed by what's said in the court today?

HONIG: Most judges are, yes. I think what typically a judge will do is go into a courtroom with a general idea, but judges can and are swayed by what's said in the courtroom. That said, based on what I heard about today, I don't think Judge Pauley will be swayed. This is an empty chair defense. Michael Cohen and his attorneys are trying to make it about somebody who's not in the room, the president of the United States. In one breath, Cohen is taking responsibility, I'm responsible for everything I did. And the next, said, I did it for this powerful scary guy. It's a bad day for the president. I think it's going to be a bad day for Michael Cohen.

BOLDUAN: One bit coming out from what the judge is saying, who is now speaking coming from Eric in the courtroom, saying, he says, "Each of these crimes is a serious offense against the United States. Mr. Cohen pled guilty to a veritable smorgasbord of fraudulent conduct."

LEE: I mean what perfectly summed up what is going on here today is what the lawyer representing the FDNY earlier said, which is that Mr. Cohen cannot both be the victim and the hero. He cannot say he takes full responsibility but then lists all the reasons why he was persuaded or he didn't really have a choice, but to do these things for his former boss, President Trump. He obviously felt a lot of pressure, as people do in these types of relationships, but made very clear in the courtroom today that does not mitigate the seriousness of his crimes. And we've got a sense of that last week too, the sentencing memorandum from the FDNY. I am struck thinking back on that, how they made it so clear, this was not someone who sort of accidentally did these things. This is someone was greedy in their opinion and purposeful and somebody who did these things sort of knowingly. And I think that is exactly what we are seeing in the courtroom.

BOLDUAN: David Chalian, it is -- I think everyone assumes that the question was how much Donald Trump brought into this? It's impossible that he's not going to respond today and what Michael Cohen is going to say about him. He's going down swinging.

CHALIAN: Oh, I can't imagine. I'm sure president will have thoughts to express on the sentence, when we hear it, Kate. But you can separate out Michael Cohen's wrongdoing for which he's punished, and rightly so, from the fact that Michael Cohen may also be one of the greatest political threats to the President Trump presidency, which I don't think anybody saw at the beginning of the Trump presidency, and that's what he remits today.

BOLDUAN: Yes, absolutely an amazing turn of events in a string of amazing turning events. Sentencing could be coming any moment. We're watching that.

Take a quick break. We'll be right back.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

[11:29:58] JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS.. I'm John King. Thank you for sharing this very busy breaking news day with us.

Breaking and unfolding, as we speak, the former Trump attorney and fixer, Michael Cohen, speaking moments ago inside a New York federal courtroom.