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Cohen Sentenced to Three Years; Mueller Team in Cohen Sentencing; Protests Erupt in Michigan. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired December 12, 2018 - 13:00   ET



[13:00:14] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Brianna Keilar, live from CNN's Washington headquarters.

We have breaking news.

President Trump's former attorney, friend and fixer, Michael Cohen, will spend the next three years in prison. This even after he flipped on the president and cooperated with Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

The sentencing happened off camera, but our reporters were inside taking down every word that was said and essentially Cohen and his attorney through his president of the United States under the bus. Cohen saying at one point, quote, recently the president tweeted a statement calling me week, and it 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.

CNN reporter Kara Scannell is outside of the courthouse.

Take us inside of that courtroom, Kara, where you were. How did this play out? And even after cooperating, why did Michael Cohen still get three years?

KARA SCANNELL, CNN REPORTER: Well, Brianna, it was a very emotional day inside the courtroom here. And, you know, one of the issues that the judge said when he was putting -- laying out this sentence, he told Cohen that, you know, that the crimes that he committed and the seriousness of these offenses, and, you know, the sentence should be amplified because of that. And so he said, you know, it was really important to give him a sentence that reflected the seriousness of these crimes, as well as reflect the importance of obeying the law. So the judge took a fairly stern tone here, despite after hearing from the special counsel's office saying that Cohen had been helpful to them, you know, cooperative, and providing them information that was core to their mission, which is, of course, investigating Russia's interference with the election.

But the scene today was really focusing literally on Michael Cohen. And he took the podium to address the court, to ask for leniency. He was very emotional when he spoke about the shame and the pain that he brought to his family. His family members. The courtroom on that side of the courtroom was packed with his father who was there, his mother, his daughter, his son, his wife, several other cousins, family members, in-laws. It was very emotional, especially after he was handed down that sentence.

But there are a couple of quotes that, you know, we want to read from what Cohen had said in court today. And one of them was that he said, this may seem hard to believe but 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 expected the offer to work for a real estate mogul whose business acumen that I deeply admired. And, Brianna, of course he's referring to President Trump. And then he continued on with that and he said, you know, that 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.

Now, Michael Cohen was sentenced to three years in prison. He's paying over $1 million in restitution. He will face -- he pled guilty, of course, to these nine counts of tax evasion, making a false statement to a bank, campaign finance violation relating to those payments to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal, and lying to Congress about how long he continued to negotiate a potential building of Trump Tower in Moscow as that -- as the presidential campaign wore on.

So the judge today saying, you know, these were serious offenses, sentencing him to three years in prison, over a million dollars in restitution and fines, and Michael Cohen will report to prison on March 6th.


KEILAR: And, Kara, something that his lawyer said that stands out to me was, as he was pleading for leniency for his client, he likened the investigation into Russian meddling in the election to Watergate, trying to argue that the significance of Michael Cohen's cooperation was like cooperating in the Watergate investigation.

SCANNELL: Absolutely. And he was saying, you know, this took so much courage on Michael Cohen's part. He could have just towed the line. He even made a reference, that was a bit of a blind reference, to Paul Manafort, someone who's cooperating but not really cooperating and double dealing, as he put it, you know, as -- the allegation that Manafort, even after cooperating, was continuing to talk to the administration.

So, you know, he really was playing that card and saying this is the most significant time -- the most significant crime and Cohen's cooperation is very significant at this very important time in history that we have not seen since Watergate, Brianna.

KEILAR: Kara Scannell, thank you so much for that report.

Here with me now, Jack Quinn, he's a former White House counsel under President Clinton, former federal prosecutor Laura Coates, and CNN chief political analyst Gloria Borger.

Help us understand, Gloria, how significant this is, what happened today.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: This is really significant, particularly if you're the president of the United States and you are watching this play out. What you said earlier, that Michael Cohen ran the president over, he did. And I think what's really important here now is that he said he intends to continue to cooperate. So this is just the beginning of the story. This is not the -- this is not the end of the story.

[13:05:07] And one thing that Michael Cohen said in court that struck me was he said he's committed to ensuring that history will not remember me as the villain of this story. The implication being there is someone else.

KEILAR: That he believes -- the implication pretty is who he believes the villain is, being the president.

BORGER: Yes. Yes.

KEILAR: He also said, Laura, he cooperated because he believed that, I guess if he didn't, or just one of the reasons that he was cooperating was because the president otherwise might get rid of the investigation?

LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I think that he, in all respects, as a cooperator, according to the Southern District of New York, is that he was a day late and a dollar short.

The timing of this is extremely important, Brianna. Remember, he didn't start cooperating until after he'd been charged with multiple felony offenses in New York.

KEILAR: So you don't -- and the point being you don't take that at face value. You say you cooperated to save your own skin.

COATES: Well, yes, and that's why you would cooperate, frankly. And there is a little bit of altruism to that, but normally you're cooperating because you're self-interested in some way. Doesn't mean that you're not credible or you're not telling the truth any longer, but you are certainly self-interested.

What happened with Michael Cohen that I think the judge was eluding to is the notion that, look, the fact that you've already pled guilty and are later cooperating is not going to somehow be a retroactive act of lenience towards you. You did the right thing now, but at the time you did the wrong thing.

And, again, he was not a full cooperator in the sense of, I'll tell you everything, even about uncharged criminal conduct. He was being a confirmer. I will confirm to you that you have it right with respect to what you already know. But if you want to be a cooperator, you have to tell the prosecutors what they have not charged and about other people as well.

KEILAR: What did you think, Jack, about what today and just what recent filings that we've seen pertaining to Michael Cohen signal to other people who may be targets of the Mueller investigation or are thinking perhaps of cooperating?

JACK QUINN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I think that's a critically important point. I mean, and, first of all, Michael Cohen, he didn't get complete leniency. On the other hand, he was facing considerably more time than he got. So he got a break. And he got that break in significant part because special counsel Mueller filed a memo outlining very significant ways in which he can be helpful to the Mueller investigation, including, for example, being able to speak to what Mueller called matters core to the investigation, namely the connection between Russia and the Trump campaign that Cohen has gleaned from his conversations with company executives. That is to say Trump company executives. And we all know who might be in that category. Most of them are named Trump.

Anyway, Mueller detailed several other areas where Cohen can provide some unique and critically important investigations and he has more time to get that sentence driven down further.

KEILAR: I wonder, Laura, the judge agreed to recommend Otisville Prison, which is in upstate New York, the idea being then he's not so far away from his family, right? This would be critical if he were spending -- looking at spending three years in prison that you would have visitation from people, that it would be more convenient for them to get to you.

There are other things that went into this consideration of being lenient to Michael Cohen.

COATES: Well, not just the idea that the family can get to him, but he's going to be a continued cooperator.


COATES: You to (INAUDIBLE) people who want information from him to get to him easily as well. So you have that part of it.

But you're absolutely right, both of you, when you talk about the idea, he still has some time. His sentencing is supposed to start March 6th. Which he has about 100 days or more at this point in time. You could always file a supplemental sentencing report in some way if you're Mueller or if you're SDNY to say, listen, things have dramatically shifted. This person has become somehow a transformative cooperator in the full sense. There is still time for him to do so.

And normally when you set it out like that as a judge, you're hoping to get their affairs in order, (INAUDIBLE) people have children or financial endeavors, et cetera. But it also could very equally mean because of the presence of Robert Mueller's special counsel team there to say, listen, the reason you are not getting the full lenience here is because you did not go above and beyond your confirmation. So there's time for Michael Cohen yet.

BORGER: Yes, there -- you know, there is. And I was told by a source close to Cohen that he's really dug in on cooperating. I mean he said it in court today. He hasn't told his whole story and he wants to tell his whole story. As I was talking about before, he doesn't want to be the villain of this story. He's committed his crimes and he understands that. But there's going to be a lot more talking going on.

I think the problem that he had is that he really only decided to fess up after it became clear to him that he wasn't going to get a pardon from Donald Trump. And Pam Brown and I did that story. At first he thought he was going to get pardoned by the president. Then it became clear to him that he wasn't. And then he turned in another -- turned in another direction. And I think that was noted or implied today.

[13:10:03] And -- but now, going forward, I think Cohen is committed, committed, I think we can say, to telling what he knows about what Jack was talking about, which is Trump Org and everything he knows about the businesses.

QUINN: He's critical to the link between Trump, the business empire --


QUINN: And Trump the political empire. And drawing those two together is something that Mueller is, if not trying to do, he's incredibly interested in knowing whether these were one enterprise, you know, all together.

The other thing, by the way, which Mueller has intimated he can provide valuable information on, he talks in his sentencing memo about Cohen having circulated his false testimony in this calendar year to other people in the White House.

KEILAR: Which is critical (INAUDIBLE).

QUINN: Which might mean that there were people involved in a conspiracy with him to provide perjured testimony.

KEILAR: And no doubt that will be something that he will have an opportunity to tell investigators.

If you all could stand by for me, I really appreciate the conversation. We have much more of our special coverage.

I'll be speaking live with a Democratic member of the House Judiciary Committee on the president's admissions on payments to -- hush money payments to women he allegedly had affairs with.

Now, Theresa May is in a fight for her political life. Her own party holds a vote of no confidence against her, the British prime minister. We are live in London.

And protests right now erupting in Michigan as Republicans move to weaken the power of incoming Democrats. We'll be taking you there live.


[13:16:03] KEILAR: There are protests right now erupting in Michigan as Republicans are moving to weaken the power of incoming Democrats.

Let's go straight to CNN's national correspondent Miguel Marquez. You're very much in the middle of this. Tell us about this scene.

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. What we're looking at right now is several hundred protesters have taken over sort of the state capital here. This is a legislation who is now sort of addressing them, talking to them about the issues that they have with what is a lame duck session here as the year ends out.

There are several bills here, about a dozen or so different pieces of legislation, that Michiganders have been concerned about, especially those on the left. They have just elected into power a Democrat in the governor's seats, the attorney general and the secretary of state. And the claim of Democrats here is that the Republican legislature is trying to jam through several different bills that will take power from the people.

And this is sort of -- they bussed people in from all around the state and this is sort of the result. And they are, you know, they're chanting and gathering. One thing that we have noted being here in the last couple of days, some of the more controversial provisions, things about campaign finance and anti-gerrymandering, those provisions, well, we're -- seemed to be on the fast track last week are now much slower.

There are also pieces of legislation, like a pipeline bill to replace a pipeline under the Mackinac Straits here that the governor has signed into law. He's put two Democrats and a Republican on the three person panel to oversee that pipeline. So that's the sort of stuff that's happening here towards the end of the year.

But like we saw in Wisconsin, like we saw in North Carolina, Democrats here concerned that Republicans at the very end of a Republican administration are trying to grab power here and change the rules for an incoming Democrat. But it's two weeks to go now, this week and next week, and possibly even the last week of the year that they have to make these changes. And it's going to be a big fight clearly until the end.


KEILAR: All right, Miguel, keeping an eye on things there for us in Lansing.

Back to our breaking news.

President Trump's former fixer and attorney has been sentenced to three years in prison, but the president said beforehand that he's not worried and he's downplaying the latest developments in the Russia investigation.

Joining me now from Capitol Hill is Democratic Congressman Ted Lieu from California.

Congressman, thanks for being with us.

And just give us a sense of where you are, your reaction on this three year sentence for Michael Cohen.

REP. TED LIEU (D), CALIFORNIA: Thank you, Brianna, for your question.

I have two reactions. The first is that Michael Cohen is going to prison in part for committing campaign finance violations. Earlier this year, Congresswoman Kathleen Rice and I sent a letter asking for an investigation of the campaign finance violations because we believe it rose to the level of a felony.

And, second, Michael Cohen specifically says that Donald Trump directed him to make these campaign finance payments. That means we have a person sitting in the White House right now who is essentially an unindicted co-conspirator. And we have a lot more we're going to find out about possibly what Donald Trump knew and what he did when Michael Cohen testifies more after his prison time is over, according to his lawyer.

KEILAR: What about the three years? Do you think that that was what he should have gotten?

LIEU: I believe that three years is appropriate given the number of felonies Michael Cohen committed. But today was a good day for the rule of law. It established that we have a rule of law in America. No one is above it. Not the president. Not his attorney.

KEILAR: I want to get your reaction to the president's interview he had with Reuters last night. You have more than a dozen associates of the presidents, family members, campaign aides, members of the administration who have had contact with Russians. And he was asked about this. He called it, quote, peanut stuff.

LIEU: Yes.

KEILAR: What's your reaction to that?

LIEU: Yes. The president is, once again, just making stuff up. CNN did an investigation showing that at least 16 associates of Donald Trump have had contacts with Russia. Many of them lied about it and several of them are now convicted felons.

This is not peanut stuff. These are felonies that many of them engaged in. And as we find out more about Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation, we're going to see that we're not talking about peanuts, we're talking about felonies.

[13:20:25] KEILAR: The president also said something that stood out because we haven't heard about it before. This was about the hush money payments to women that he allegedly had affairs with. He told Reuters, quote, 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.

LIEU: Yes. Right. Yes.

KEILAR: OK. OK, now, first off, all kinds of problems with this statement factually. LIEU: Right.

KEILAR: The civil. I mean it just doesn't measure up.

LIEU: Right.

KEILAR: But the thing that really stands out is that ending part where he said what we did, because it's different from his denial of even knowing about the payments.

Let's listen to what he said in April shortly after porn star Stormy Daniels went public.


QUESTION: Mr. President, did you know about the $130,000 payments to Stormy Daniels?



LIEU: Yes.

KEILAR: Is this something that the Democratic led House is going to investigate?

LIEU: I believe we would investigate if Special Counsel Mueller doesn't investigate it. And we'll know soon enough whether or not the special counsel's office is working on this issue.

We do get subpoena power in the House of Representatives starting January 3rd for the Democrats. This is definitely an issue we're going to monitor.

I'm also a former prosecutor. And you can infer intent from a person's statements. So when Donald Trump says we did this, that's a pretty significant statement because it does show that he intended for these payments to be made, and those are campaign finance violations that rise to the level of felonies.

KEILAR: What is your reaction on the issue of impeachment, the president was asked. He said that people would revolt if he was impeached.

LIEU: Right. Yes.

KEILAR: And I wonder if it is on your mind, if it is on the mind of fellow Democrats, as this is a question being considered now that he has been implicated in campaign finance violations, and a criminal act. Is it on your mind that if, after you find out the Mueller findings, there's a procession towards impeachment, that there would be a tremendous amount of outrage on the part of his supporters that would actually work against you guys?

LIEU: My view is that impeachment is like the power to declare war. It's one of Congress' gravest responsibilities. It should never be our first option. So we need to wait and see what the special counsel's investigation shows us. It could be an easy decision for us to make.

I also note that the central lesson of Watergate is that no one is above the law. The American people did not revote when Nixon was impeached. I don't believe the American people are going to revote if the facts and the law show that the president should be impeached.

KEILAR: If he doesn't lose support of his own party, that's a -- I mean, I will just say, that seems different than the Nixon situation, if he does -- if the president doesn't lose support of Republicans, as you saw Nixon do, it could be a different situation, right?

LIEU: That's correct. So I think a large part of this will turn on, what does the special counsel investigation show sometime next year.


I want to ask you about something totally separate, because you were in this Google hearing.

LIEU: Yes.

KEILAR: The CEO of Google, Sundar Pichai, testifying before your committee about a number of concerns. You took an opportunity to push back on Republican claims of bias in Google searches. In the middle of this hearing you Googled Republican Steve Scalise, you Googled after that Republican Steve King to show that there were favorable stories, including from conservative outlets about Scalise, negative coverage of King, and you made the point essentially, that's not because of a Google algorithm, it's because of what these members do and say.

I will say, it was -- it was clever. It caught some attention. But I wonder, have you thought that maybe you and other Democrats have missed opportunities to use your time to press Google's CEO at a time when these large tech companies are struggling to manage content perpetuating conspiracy theories, they're so vulnerable to outside interference? Isn't that a focus that could have been a missed opportunity?

LIEU: So it's a very good point you make. I would love, if I could have more than five minutes, to question witnesses. Unfortunately, I don't get that opportunity.

However, I would love to be able to regulate the content of speech. The First Amendment prevents me from doing so. And that's simply a function of the First Amendment. But I think over the long run, it's better that government does not regulate the content of speech.

I would urge these private sector companies to regulate it better themselves. But it's really nothing that I believe government can do. And so that's been my position all along.

KEILAR: All right, governor -- governor, pardon me, congressman -- I just -- I promoted you, as you see.

LIEU: Yes, you did. Thank you.

KEILAR: Congressman Ted Lieu from California, thank you so much.

[13:25:02] LIEU: Thank you.

KEILAR: Political drama unfolding right now in London, live pictures, where Theresa May's own party is casting their votes on her fate as prime minister.

And the president says, if needed, he'll intervene in the Justice Department's probe of an arrested Chinese executive, all so he can get his trade deal passed. I'm going to ask a Republican congressman on the foreign affairs committee if he can square the president's move.

Stay with us.