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Trump's Lawyer Cohen Sentenced to Three Years in Prison; New York Prosecutors Reach Deal with Tabloid Involved in Hush Money Payments for Trump; Secret Vote Underway to Decide Theresa May's Fate. Aired 2-2:30p ET
Aired December 12, 2018 - 14:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[14:00:00] BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: Hi there, I'm Brooke Baldwin. Michael Cohen had his day in court and ran with it, going right after the President. Cohen ripped Trump, just before being sentenced to three years in prison and ordered to pay more than $1 million in restitution. This is the most severe outcome so far in the Russia investigation. Today's sentencing comes after Cohen pleaded guilty to committing nine federal crimes, some of which according to Cohen and prosecutors were committed out of loyalty to Trump.
Now the man who once said he would take a bullet for Trump fired back against his boss of 10 plus years saying this to the judge saying, quoting Michael Cohen now, "Today is one of the most meaningful days of my life. I have been living in a personal and mental incarceration ever since the day that I accepted the offer to work for a real estate mogul whose business acumen that I deeply admired. The father of two then added he was committed to, quote, "ensuring that history will not remember me as the villain of his story." Cohen also brought up this recent insult from the President.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He's a weak person and by being weak, unlike other people that you watch, he's a weak person and what he's trying to do is get a reduced sentence.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
Michael Cohen said Trump was correct in calling him weak, adding "but for a much different reason he was implying. It was because time and time again I felt it was my duty to cover up his dirty deeds." Let's start with Kara Scannell. Why three years?
KARA SCANNELL, CNN REPORTER: He pleaded guilty in an agreement with the government. They use the math that you get to this number of this range where he was facing between four to five years in prison. You know, Cohen and his lawyers said that, you know, he really shouldn't serve any time because he's trying to make amends, he's cooperating with the investigation, with the Special Counsel's office, but the U.S. Attorney's said, hey, hold on, these are serious crimes, this is tax evasion. You're lying to a bank amid campaign finance violations and the judge ultimately agreed with them. He said he wanted to encourage cooperation, which is why we see him serving 36 months, three years, less than the potential four to five years, but he also said given the importance of the special counsel's investigation, that Michael Cohen lied to Congress, that these crimes need to be faced with deterrence. He wanted to deter other people from lying in such high-profile events. He said democracy and our Democratic institutions depended on people cooperating and being truthful when working with the government. He said he committed crimes far on his own that were very serious in and of their own and that's why Cohen deserved to serve three years in prison, let it be a message to other people out there, Brooke.
BALDWIN: Three years. He goes to prison in March. Let's take a deep dive in all of this with me attorney Berit Berger and CNN legal analyst Elie Honig, they have both worked as federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York, one of office is prosecuting Cohen today. You, sir, you called it, three years.
ELIE HONIG, CNN LEGAL ANALYST AND FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Yes. Lucky guess. I think we saw the perfect encapsulation of his rise and fall. The one unifying theme is that he wants it both ways, he's always wanted it both ways. Today he portrayed himself as a hero, I always look to help, and as a victim. Everything I did was because I got caught up with the President.
I cooperated but kind of, not really. I take full responsibility but everything I did was for the President. It was a bad day for Michael Cohen. It was also a bad day for the President. He got blamed a lot. We call it the empty chair phenomenon, you blame the guy who is not there to defend themselves. That said, the things the southern district said and all the things that Michael Cohen said reflect badly on the President.
BALDWIN: The SDNY didn't mince words but Mueller said he did speak the truth, said he was cooperative, he doesn't go to prison until March. Might he continue to cooperate in that time?
BERIT BERGER, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: He might. Everyone heard Cohen was first pleading guilty and was in a cooperative stance.
[14:05:00] People had high hopes. They say think of the cases he could break open. I think after today's sentencing, in my mind it's unlikely that his continued cooperation would be significant. That's for a few reasons. One, it's harder to use a cooperating witness after they've been sentenced because your leverage over them has been weakened and, two, the southern district of New York went out pretty far on a limb in saying he had this pattern of deception, that he had been engaged in all of these lies. It is harder to call somebody as a cooperating witness when their history of lying and deception has been highlighted for a court.
BALDWIN: As you were telling me yesterday, it's like SDNY, it's all or nothing. You fully, fully cooperate or deuces, you're off to prison.
HONIG: We don't play around, Yes. BALDWIN: Lawyers for Cohen told the judge that Cohen thought Trump
was going to shut down the Mueller investigation. And so that is when essentially Cohen goes to Mueller and is like, whoa, whoa, whoa, I'll cooperate. That is significant.
HONIG: So, yes. I would immediately be on the phone with Cohen's lawyer and say you say he wants to be a good boy and cooperate, let's hear about that.
BALDWIN: How do you know that?
HONIG: Right. What was being said? That argument didn't ring true for me. If the argument was Michael Cohen, believed that the President was about to shut it down so I cooperated, but he didn't fully cooperate. The southern district made a point of saying he declined to go into certain areas. Are you the hero or not?
BALDWIN: Bigger picture, as we've learned, as he said he had talked to the White House before talking to Congress. We know Manafort had talked to the White House as recent as the spring, as he was, quote unquote, what we thought at the time cooperating and it leads one to wonder what was going on. We should also just remind everyone that Cohen is still cooperating and the investigation is to the Trump Organization, Trump Tower meeting and things that would directly impact Trump. Cohen's lawyers compared this moment to Watergate, seeing him as a John Dean type. The judge is reminding everyone and we were talking about how tough this judge is, no, he's not the hero. Is it possible that he could in a sense rewrite history so that he isn't the villain in the end?
BERGER: I think that's definitely what his intent was in doing all of this and he was trying to get in front of all this. I think his position as a lawyer played a really significant role in his sentencing today. When the judge talked about how he is held to a higher standard, Michael Cohen himself talked about how he had this blind loyalty to Trump. All of which is to say that blind loyalty is really the one thing that a lawyer is not supposed to have with their client. There are high ethical and legal guidelines for lawyers as to how they're supposed to interact with their client. Blind loyalty is not one of them. You're there to advise and counsel, not to help facilitate criminal plans.
BALDWIN: We know that Cohen's lawyers went after Trump. The question now is how does Trump respond? We saw Trump last week saying throw the book at him. In that "Reuters" interview last night, Trump said, "Number one, it wasn't a campaign contribution. If it were, it's only civil. And even if it's only civil, there is no violation based on what we did. OK."
HONIG: He's all over the map. He didn't know about it, now he knew about it, now it's something we did. Ultimately, I think the wagons are circling on the President here. The news that just came out is that the southern district has immunized AMI, which was the vehicle.
BALDWIN: We're about to get to that. BERGER: That was the vehicle for one of the payments. If you sort of
do the math here, Cohen convicted, pled guilty, Pecker and Weiselberg immunized, and AMI is corporate immunity basically, who is left in this? The President. Maybe there were other people that we don't yet know about. The person standing in the middle is the President. Is the southern district gearing up to indict the President? I doubt it. They are still part of the department of justice. But this campaign financing is a growing problem for the President.
BALDWIN: Hang with me. You just hit on what we're going to be talking about. The other breaking development, the parent company of the "National Enquirer," AMI, reaching a deal with the prosecutors over hush money payments involving the president. Big, big development. We will discuss that in just a second.
Also, ahead, British Prime Minister Theresa May is really in the fight for her political life. A secret vote to decide whether she will stay or remain is under way right now. We will get the very latest for you live from London. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.
[14:10:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
BALDWIN: We are back. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin. It is tied to hush money payments. Prosecutors say Michael Cohen coordinated for President Trump, the parent company of the "National Enquirer" has cut a deal, requiring AMI to own up two paying alleged Trump mistress, Karen McDougal, that Playboy
With me now our chief media correspondent, Brian Stelter, and Elie and Berit are back with me as well. Brian, first to you on the details.
BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: On this American Media, a non-prosecution agreement, this is the owner of "The National Enquirer." he also own as bunch of other magazines like "Men's Fitness" and very well known for their pro-Trump position.
[14:15:00] During the 2016 campaign, this magazine was unabashedly anti-Hillary and pro Trump and they were working to support Trump's candidacy to help him get elected through these catch-and-kill deals. The magazine denied ever paying someone, buying off a story to pay off someone for Donald Trump. Most troubling for the President, they've cooperated, supported Michael Cohen's account and they will continue to cooperate in the future.
BALDWIN: Translation from a lawyer, this cooperation agreement from AMI means what?
BERGER: Like you said, it's a corporate cooperation agreement. This is a mechanism that a company can't be sent to jail but they can be held accountable. If you're not going to indict a corporation, one way to resolve a case is by a non-prosecution agreement. Usually this will have a fine associated with it and terms such as continued cooperation. Here it looks like AMI has agreed to provide information.
BALDWIN: Who are they talking to?
BERGER: They're talking to the prosecutors.
BALDWIN: This is Mueller's team?
HONIG: I think it's the southern district. I'm Brooke this is why it is so important. In the terms when you reach the agreement you will sometimes hash out certain specific terms. AMI admits it makes the $150,000 payment in concert with a candidate's presidential campaign and that the principal purpose in making the payment was to suppress the woman's story to prevent it from influencing the election. So, one more strong piece of evidence, we just saw the President's tweets where he said nothing wrong with that, it wasn't campaign related, on top of Cohen and circumstantial evidence, you have the company saying this was for the President and to influence the election.
STELTER: AMI is also saying they've agreed to be basically more ethical in the future. You have a supermarket tabloid agreeing to terms with the Southern District of New York it will abide by norms involving campaign finance in the future. An interesting twist. Most importantly on a personal level, American media is owned by David Pecker, David Pecker hangs out with Donald Trump all the time, going to Mar-a-Lago. There were questions of what other stories might they have covered up over the years? We don't know. But the prosecutors know.
BALDWIN: A secret vote under way on British Prime Minister Theresa May. Richard quest is with me next. And another wild interview with the President, admitting these payments plus calling the fact that 16 of his associates had contact with Russia, quote unquote, peanut stuff.
[14:20:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
BALDWIN: Any moment now British Prime Minister Theresa May is set to learn her fate with the secret vote happening right this very moment. And with that decision, the world could learn what's to come of Brexit, this controversial plan that would pull the U.K. out of the European Union. You remember this was back to 2016, this stunning decision where brits voted to leave the EU. Ever since then it has been talks and fights and negotiations and finger pointing and threats. But just when the U.K. and EU are close to reaching an agreement to finalize their exit, Theresa May's own party move to show her to the door.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JEREMY CORBYN, LABOUR PARTY LEADER: The Prime Minister and her government have already been found to be in contempt of Parliament. Her behavior today is contemptuous of this Parliament and of this process! Mr. Speaker, the Prime Minister's appalling behavior needs to be held to account.
THERESA MAY, PRIME MINISTER, UNITED KINGDOM: He couldn't care less about Brexit. He wants to bring down the government, create uncertainty, sow division and crash our economy. The biggest threat, the biggest threat to people and to this country isn't leaving the EU, it's a Corbyn government!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BALDWIN: So, Theresa May needs a majority of her own party to believe she is the right person for the job to hang in there. So, let's start here with CNN international diplomatic editor Nic Robertson, he's outside 10 Downing Street where the Prime Minister lives and works. There are three potentially scenarios. Walk me through them.
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: There's one scenario where she fails in this vote. There's another scenario where she gets the 159 votes plus a couple more that are required, the 159 is a simple majority. That's the threshold, that she gets just a few more or she gets 159 plus a lot more, maybe a hundred more, and that would really -- if that happened, that would really consolidate her as a Prime Minister supported by her party, ready to go back to Europe and get more on the deal, not that much more is on offer.
[14:25:00] If it's that second option where it's a tiny bit more than the simple majority, then she looks like a very weak leader. That was perhaps why she made that concession before the seek contract ballot saying that she wouldn't lead the party into the next expected general election 2022. The first scenario where I said she loses the vote, then you have a leadership race. That takes weeks to put into place. That delays think any of the important negotiations on Brexit. A new leader will want a new deal. There simply isn't a way to deliver that before you get to the current deadline, 29th of March, Britain potentially crashes out with no deal and all the economic consequences which could be quite self-here if that were to happen, Brooke.
BALDWIN: I know this has been such a headache for so many people where you, Nic Robertson, perfectly laying out these scenarios. Now for more analysis, Richard Quest, anchor of "Quest Means Business." Two days ago, you sat in that chair when she delayed that vote and you said she's totally going to survive. Do you still believe that?
RICHARD QUEST, CNN ANCHOR, "QUEST MEANS BUSINESS": Tonight, Yes. I could be proven wrong. The result will come out in an hour and a half from now. Nic sums it up is it a small majority or large majority. A small majority she's a teetering leader and a big majority she can go back to Europe and say, it's time to give me more. I know we had a deal but give me more.
BALDWIN: What if she is teetering?
QUEST: If she falls, if she falls, the first thing that has to happen is an extension of the Article 50, the deadline. There's no way can you put everything for the tory party, the British government and Europe all in place. There's what would happen. I was just watching very closely the question time --
BALDWIN: In Parliament.
QUEST: Watching what you just played, Jeremy Corbyn and Theresa May. I thought -- yesterday you and I were talking about Senator Schumer, Speaker Pelosi, Donald Trump, Mike Pence somewhere over there in the background and the way they were going at it in the Oval Office.
BALDWIN: This felt reminiscent of that?
QUEST: Completely. For the first time Americans saw exactly what British do every week in Parliament. And it's healthy for each person in power to have somebody else say you're wrong.
BALDWIN: It's so rare we actually see that in front of cameras around here.
QUEST: Yes, it was great.
BALDWIN: Lastly, a bunch of Americans. Would it be possible depending what happens with Theresa May that Brexit couldn't go through? It's happening March 29th, correct?
QUEST: It is but you may delay it, a second referendum.
BALDWIN: I would say if everything collapsed, if Parliament couldn't come to any solution, if there was no other way out, then labor would probably demand and maybe the Tories would have to give a people's vote. Possible, probably, likely perhaps.
Tick-tock, tick-tock, we've got 90 minutes before Theresa May learns her fate. Back here at home, the President's former lawyer sentenced to three years in prison. We'll show you how widespread the legal jeopardy is for the entire Trump orbit.