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AMI Reaches Plea Deal With Federal Prosecutors; British Lawmakers Decide Theresa May's Fate; Trump Fixer Michael Cohen Sentenced to Three Years in Prison. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired December 12, 2018 - 15:00   ET

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


[15:00:01]

KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The campaign finance violations and lying to Congress.

And he said, because of the need to have deterrence for some -- these crimes, that the sentence needed to be amplified. And so the -- he -- the judge said that the range Cohen was facing was between four and five years. He decided to give him three months (sic) in prison.

And after that moment, you really could sense the emotional drain in the courtroom. Cohen's father and mother were there, his in-laws, his sibling, cousins, and, of course, his wife and two children.

There was a lot of emotion. His children were crying. His wife was crying. At the end of the hearing, when the judge had left the bench, all of the family members came up to Cohen, hugged him, patted him on the back. There were long embraces between Cohen and his immediate family, who were really taking a moment to having this -- the sentence and the seriousness of this offense really sink on them, Brooke.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: So, three years, goes to prison in March.

Pam, to you at.

Any White House response yet to all of this?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, I just got off the phone with the president's attorney Rudy Giuliani. And his first response was that Michael Cohen was not blindly loyal to the president. He says, in his words, that he was aggressively disloyal.

And he pointed to the fact that he had recorded conversations with his then client Donald Trump and didn't tell him that he was recording those conversations. As you will recall, CNN has played the tape where Michael Cohen and Donald Trump appear to be talking about Karen McDougal and paying her off, so her story isn't made public.

And so Rudy Giuliani was really seizing on that in response to what Cohen said, that, sure, he was weak because he was basically so loyal to the -- to Donald Trump that he did his dirty deeds. And so he said, basically, that's not true. We were -- deceptively were recording when he was with Donald Trump, and he said, basically, he is responsible for his own lying and misdeeds. No one else can tell him to do so.

And also something else you're seeing, this line of argument you're seeing from the president, from his lawyers and others in the White House is this notion of criminal prosecution on campaign finance violations.

Rudy Giuliani was trying to make the case that it shouldn't be criminally prosecuted and that these are overzealous prosecutors. Of course, it is a felony to do what Michael Cohen has pleaded guilty to. And that is -- really makes up the bulk of the 36 months in prison that he is now facing.

What's also interesting, Brooke, what struck out to me, looking at what Cohen's attorney Guy Petrillo said in court today, he was painting the picture that, look Michael, Cohen feels bad about what he does, he is trying to make it right by going against the most powerful person in the United States, the president.

But then he said he could not have foreseen the kind of attacks that he has been under, as well as his family, which just kind of struck me, because this is a president, as we know, who always fights back. And so -- and that's his former personal attorney. It's hard to believe he didn't see that coming when he decided to work with prosecutors on matters involving the president.

BALDWIN: He also said, Pam, that Cohen had cooperated in part because he knew -- we don't know how he knew, but that he knew Trump was going to shut this investigation down. What did you think of that?

BROWN: So that was actually a little bit confusing. I was talking to some of my colleagues about that initially, and that the question we talked about was, well, is he saying that he knew that the president could order the firing of Mueller and then that would shut the investigation down?

But that's not exactly how it would work. And so it's unclear. The insinuation was that people on the White House side of things close to the president indicated to him that that would happen, but it's unclear how -- why he would believe that the president was going to shut down this investigation.

And even so, he still cooperated with investigators. That leaves a lot of unanswered questions on the table, Brooke.

BALDWIN: On that point, Kara, back over to you quickly, last question, does this mean -- Cohen continues to cooperate before he reports the prison in March, yes?

SCANNELL: That's right, Brooke.

One of the prosecutors with the special counsel's office, Jeannie Rhee, had said in court that Cohen was cooperating up until this day. So it's expected that he will continue to cooperate with them, and then even once he is in prison in March, he can continue to cooperate.

I mean, that happens. You can have people who are in prison and that they will still engage with prosecutors who are investigating cases that they're helpful to. So Cohen's cooperation won't necessarily end in March, but we will see how much longer the special counsel's investigation continues -- Brooke.

BALDWIN: All right, ladies, thank you very much.

Let's open up the conversation.

With me now, CNN national security and legal analyst Asha Rangappa, a former FBI special agent, and Lisa Lerer, national political reporter for "The New York Times."

So, ladies, welcome.

And, Asha, here's my first question to you on all of this, that we have learned so much. For people who didn't know, SDNY, it's either like all or nothing, right? And so they didn't mince words whatsoever. You don't sort of halfway cooperate with them.

[15:05:09]

But Mueller's team only spoke for a couple of minutes and said Cohen was indeed cooperative. As we reported, he's not going to prison until March.

Do you anticipate him cooperating during that time and even farther down the road?

ASHA RANGAPPA, CNN LEGAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: I do. I mean, he got a downward departure because -- partly because of his cooperation.

And he is cooperating with the special counsel's office. And what they have submitted to the court is dependent on him fulfilling his obligations with them. So I do. I also think that his statements, the statements of his lawyer Lanny Davis make it sound like he is wanting not only to help the special counsel, but at some point to come be public about what he knows as well.

BALDWIN: So, Lisa, talk of continued cooperation. He doesn't go to prison until March. We know that he's still cooperating on the whole Trump Organization investigation.

We just heard from Pamela Brown reporting out that she talked to Rudy Giuliani, saying that their response was that Cohen had been blindly disloyal. The fact that he could still talk, how worried should this White House be?

LISA LERER, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Oh, I think they're quite worried. I mean, if anything, maybe the silence speaks volumes. I know we have all been waiting for the presidential tweet.

No matter the moment, there's always a tweet.

BALDWIN: Which had crickets so far, yes. LERER: Right. And we have heard crickets, which sort of says something, right? This is not a known -- a president who's known for holding back.

And the White House and the staff there take their cues from the tone he sets. But there's no question this will have a chilling effect on the White House. This isn't any person. This is President Trump, one of his closest advisers. This is his personal lawyer. This is someone who's been by his side for nearly...

BALDWIN: Ten-plus years.

LERER: Yes, 10-plus years. This is someone who is at the heart and has been at the heart of the operation.

And he is now going to prison for three years, almost ironically, I suppose, as long as the president has been an office.

(CROSSTALK)

LERER: So if you're trying to hire for the White House -- say, you're looking for a chief of staff -- this certainly can't make that process easier, when you're trying to fill positions in the White House where there's a number, not just chief of staff, but there are a number of positions that need to be filled to make this sort of a fully functioning operation.

(CROSSTALK)

BALDWIN: Yes.

Asha, back over to you, because we know lawyers for Cohen said that Cohen thought Trump, what, was going to shut down the Mueller investigation, right? So that's when Cohen goes to Mueller and essentially says, OK, OK, I will cooperate.

How do you read that? How significant could that be?

RANGAPPA: I think that could be very significant.

We know that Mueller is investigating obstruction of justice. This is beginning with the firing of James Comey. And the question is, what's he trying to do that in an effort to stymie or shut down the Russia investigation?

Now, if what Mueller, what -- I'm sorry what Cohen believes is saying that he knows is not just some kind of theoretical idea that the president has the power to fire Mueller, as Laura just said, but rather some kind of strategy that was in place, with details or things like that, that could very well help the obstruction side of Mueller's investigation, in addition to anything that he's providing on the Russia front as well.

BALDWIN: What about these dirty deeds? I have had the AC/DC song running through my head as we've been talking about -- sorry, I had to -- as Cohen says, I have covered up Trump's dirty deeds. We don't know what the dirty deeds are. What could they be?

LERER: Yes.

Well, I think there's a number of people who expect the Mueller investigation to delve more into financial dealings and where all the money's coming from and the flows of money possibly between the U.S. and abroad.

I think if you're a Democrat, incoming Democrat in Congress or, say, Nancy Pelosi, that's exactly the phrase you want to hear. I mean, having the president's close adviser, personal lawyer come out and talk about dirty deeds just as the incoming -- you have this House -- Democratic majority in the House coming in that is champing at the bit to launch a sea of investigations, is not what you want out there in the public domain if you're the White House in this moment.

BALDWIN: Asha, Cohen's lawyers also went after Trump. And the question is, how will Trump respond? We know that last week Trump had put out there throw the book at him.

Last night, in this fascinating interview with Reuters, this is what 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 was no violation based on what we did."

Those two little words at the end of the sentence, "we did," did he just stick his foot in his mouth?

RANGAPPA: He usually does when he makes statements or tweets. And he would be wise to remain quiet.

Look, the bottom line with the law is that if, it's knowing and willful, it crosses the line from a civil into a criminal penalty. But, Brooke, I think here, it's -- I actually think that campaign finance might be the least of his problems.

[15:10:05]

Once again, this is somebody who knows about what was going on in the inner workings of the Trump Organization, before he entered the campaign. And that was the red line that Trump had.

And so we already know the New York attorney general is looking into the Trump Foundation. That's a civil case. There's all kinds of assistance that Cohen could provide that could go down roads that the president does not want to be looked at.

I mean, he basically said, don't look in the garage if you're looking for the dead body.

BALDWIN: Totally.

(CROSSTALK)

RANGAPPA: And the person who has the key to the garage is now talking to prosecutors.

BALDWIN: Totally. And the Democrats up on Capitol Hill are like, we know there's a garage and we're going to wait until they find maybe a little something bigger before we do anything.

I think you hit the nail on the head.

Ladies, stay with me, because I have more.

We have breaking news about the parent company of "The National Enquirer, AMI. They have just reached this deal over the hush money payment they made involving the president and former playboy model Karen McDougal -- what this company is admitting to, to avoid prosecution.

And moments from now, we will find out if British Prime Minister Theresa May actually gets to keep her job, her own party voting on her fate after heated debates and negotiation over this whole Brexit vote. We are live in London with the breaking news coming up next.

And, later, the mansplaining heard round the world -- what Leader Nancy Pelosi's showdown with president in that Oval Office tells us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:15:56]

BALDWIN: We're back. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

American Media, the parent company of "The National Enquirer," has just reached a deal with federal prosecutors which will allow this company to avoid prosecution for their hush money agreement with former playboy model Karen McDougal.

And in an exclusive interview earlier this year with Anderson Cooper, McDougal talked about why she thinks she was offered the money.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Do you think the presidential race had anything to do with this deal getting done?

KAREN MCDOUGAL, FORMER PLAYBOY PLAYMATE: when I'm looking back at it now, possibly yes.

COOPER: How so?

MCDOUGAL: Well, as an American citizen, we know that, if you don't put all your evidence out, so to speak, that you know, or if you're paying to squash stories, or if you're given illegal campaign funds, we know it's illegal.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: Crime and justice correspondent Shimon Prokupecz is with me. Asha Rangappa is still with us. So, Shimon, this is a non-prosecution agreement with AMI, meaning it's basically a cooperation agreement with the company.

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, they're cooperating.

And, essentially, where they're cooperating is that they're saying -- SDNY is saying that these payments were to suppress, obviously, the stories, the woman's story, Karen McDougal, but also the purpose of making this payment was to prevent it from influencing the election.

So, essentially, they now have another witness, a cooperating witness, that they can use in their case, perhaps a broader case that they're building on, because we know this is not going to just stop here, in terms of Michael Cohen.

Some of the other things that the prosecutor said in this deal and the reason why they wanted to do this with AMI, here's what basically AMI has to do now. They must admit that it paid Karen McDougal, in concert with the 2016 campaign, to ensure she did not publicize damaging allegations.

And then they also say that they must admit the principal purpose of the payment was to suppress McDougal's story to prevent it from influencing the election.

The key thing here also is this idea that they did this in concert with the 2016 campaign. That is the Trump campaign. And they say it's with one or more people in the campaign. So who are prosecutors talking about? Who's that one or more person? Are there other people attached to the campaign that are potentially going to face problems?

And, of course, just to remind viewers, AMI, "National Enquirer," the chairman of AMI...

BALDWIN: David Pecker, buddies...

PROKUPECZ: With Trump, knows a lot of secrets. There's this whole idea about a vault with all sorts of secrets.

(CROSSTALK)

BALDWIN: What else could they have?

Asha, what are you thinking? What sticks out to you?

(LAUGHTER)

RANGAPPA: Yes, this is going where Rudy Giuliani does not want it to go, which is, again, into the territory where the campaign finance violation was knowing and willful.

That's, again, the line that takes it from a civil to a criminal penalty. And it's one thing to put all your eggs in one basket and say, well, Cohen says so. And that's hard because Cohen is coming with a lot of baggage. As Shimon just said, this is showing that they have other witnesses, other evidence to corroborate the idea that this was knowing and willful on the part of other members of the campaign and potentially the president himself. And it's going to be much harder to, I think, disparage as more and more evidence and testimony piles up.

BALDWIN: Asha and Shimon, thank you, guys, very much on that.

Moments from now, meantime, we will find out the results of the secret vote to decide the future of the British prime minister, Theresa May's own party deciding whether she gets to keep her job, after this storm of controversy for months and months over Brexit.

Plus, the Russians are now accusing the U.S. of torturing accused spy Maria Butina -- what they told CNN one day before she is expected to cut a deal.

We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:20:35]

BALDWIN: Just a couple minutes from now, after a secret vote by her own party, British Prime Minister Theresa May will learn her fate.

Will she stay or have to go? With that decision, the world could learn what's to come of Brexit, this controversial plan in which the U.K. would leave the E.U. You remember, this was back in June of '16, this stunning vote where Brits voted to leave the European Union.

[15:25:01]

And ever since then, it's been talks and disputes and finger-pointing and threats. But just when the U.K. and the E.U. are finally close to reaching an agreement on a split, Theresa May's own party moves to show her the door.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JEREMY CORBYN, LEADER, LABOR PARTY: The prime minister and her government have already been found to be in contempt of Parliament. Her behavior today is just contemptuous of this Parliament.

(CROSSTALK)

CORBYN: Mr. Speaker, the prime minister's appalling behavior needs to be held to account.

THERESA MAY, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: He couldn't care less about Brexit. What he wants to do is bring down the government, create uncertainty, sow division, and crash our economy.

The biggest -- the biggest threat -- the biggest threat to people and to this country isn't leaving the E.U. It's a Corbyn government.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: CNN international diplomatic editor Nic Robertson is live outside of 10 Downing, where Theresa May lives and works.

And so, Nic, we wait, the clock ticks until 4:00 Eastern time. Walk us through potential scenarios for her.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Well, one of the scenarios is that she loses the vote. Another scenario is that she wins the vote, she needed 159, and she gets maybe a few -- few more, maybe a dozen or so more votes.

And another scenario, she gets 159, plus 100 or so. If she does that, then she's in a really strong position. She can certainly go back to the European Union. She may not get much more out of them, but they know that they're dealing with a reinvigorated prime minister, although she will have to come back and still get that meaningful vote on Brexit through the House of Parliament.

And that's not going to be easy. You heard her with Jeremy Corbyn there just before. That still could -- it all could fall down there. But if she come -- if she wins, but only by a small amount, then that will make it very difficult for her to get any more potential even small concessions from the European Union. It really weakens her.

And, of course, if she loses, then it goes into a new leadership election contest, which really slows down any further movement on Brexit, and perhaps has dire consequences for the country, crashing out of the European Union without a deal with huge economic consequences.

So, which one of those three do we think it is? Well, we maybe got a tiny hint of that 20 minutes ago when Theresa May came back into 10 Downing Street here. I have to say she did have a smile on her face. She did look reasonably happy. Perhaps she had a whiff of the result. Perhaps she feels that it's going her way.

Too soon to say. But if you're trying to read her body language this evening, notoriously difficult to do, I would say she felt fairly good. But let's not bank on that yet, Brooke.

BALDWIN: OK, smiling maybe so far. Nic Robertson, thank you at 10 Downing Street there in London.

Let's get more analysis.

With me, Ann Berry, a financial analyst and managing director at Cornell Capital, and Susan Glasser, CNN global affairs analyst and staff writer for "The New Yorker."

Ladies, wow. We will know very shortly what happens here with Theresa May.

Ann, first starting with you, all right, smile on her face. Maybe she knows something we don't know. Maybe she's trying to project this confidence with this vote. Do you think she survives it? ANN BERRY, CORNELL CAPITAL: I think she does survive it.

I think enough of the Tory party understand that to have disruption in leadership now, right when we're only 15 weeks away from Brexit happening...

BALDWIN: March 29.

BERRY: March. This is time the U.K. does not have to waste. And it's time to move to having that vote go through Parliament.

BALDWIN: How about -- so, her party chairman said the announcement about the vote was made early today to avoid unsettling the markets.

Do you do you think there could be some global ramification that we could all feel if she is voted out?

BERRY: Absolutely. If she's voted out and there's a change in leadership, that leaves Britain descending into a state of complete uncertainty.

Some vote has to happen. At least right now, there's a deal on the table to be discussed. In her absence, there's really nothing. And I think that uncertainty, when we're seeing real uncertainty in other parts of Europe too, can have real ramifications.

BALDWIN: Susan, to you.

Just wanting to remind all of our viewers here in America this relationship between Theresa May and President Donald Trump. It started off fairly rosy, right? She was the first of all of these heads of state who he met with at the White House.

But it's had some rockier times since. Here's a look back.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Together, America and the United Kingdom are a beacon for prosperity and the rule of law.

I would have done it much differently. I actually told Theresa May how to do it, but she didn't agree with -- she didn't listen to me.

QUESTION: What did you say?

TRUMP: She didn't listen. No, I told her how to do it. I -- that will be up to her to say.

But I told her how to do it. She just -- she wanted to go a different route.

MAY: He told me I should sue the E.U.

QUESTION: Sue the E.U.?

MAY: Sue the E.U., not go into negotiations, sue them. Actually, no, no. We're going into...

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: Did you even think about that for a second?

MAY: We're going into negotiations with them.

TRUMP: Right now, as the deal stands, she may not -- they may not be able to trade with the U.S. And I don't think they want that at all.