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Michael Cohen Sentenced to 3 Years in Prison. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired December 12, 2018 - 12:30   ET


[12:30:00] JULIE PACE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, ASSOCIATED PRESS: Again, just going to be really difficult for the president to separate himself from because it involves him personally and his campaign directly.

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: I do think though it's not a slam dunk. I mean, look, the president has a very good defense here if he chooses to use it which is, you know, I was trying to save my family from the embarrassment of the -- these revelations. They had nothing to do with the campaign. You're beginning to see sloppily a little version of that but that's going to be their defense, that's the one that could work.

JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: We're going to bounce -- hang on just one second. We're going to bounce around a little bit because of breaking news report. Our Kara Scannell was in the courtroom in New York as all of this played out. The prosecutor speaks, Michael Cohen speaks, the judge speaks. Kara, take us inside that courtroom. A lot of drama today.

KARA SCANNELL, CNN REPORTER: Oh John, it was so emotional inside that courtroom today. We had Michael Cohen speaking, you know, about coming into tears when he was saying it broke his heart that the shame and the pain he's brought onto his family by committing these crimes. His family members were all very emotional. He was surrounded by friends and family, his daughter was sitting right behind him, his wife, son, his mother, father, in-laws, cousins, they all came over after the sentencing which seemed like an absolute shock to them.

You could hear some sobbing in the courtroom as he was told he was going to have 36 months, three years in prison, and they came over and they all hugged him. There was a lot of, you know, intense embraces, long embraces, handshakes, everyone looked very shocked I'd say. I think they were expecting him to have a much lighter sentence, if not any time at all, John.

KING: Dramatic inside the courtroom. Kara, I appreciate that insight from straight inside. The emotional playing out -- the emotions playing out. As Kara notes, and the question now, is Michael Cohen facing three years in prison.

Michael Cohen can try to reduce that by cooperating further. Both on his own personal financial crimes and b, we know the special counsel -- among the office of special counsel, among the things they're looking into as Michael Cohen announces he was lying and by extension, Donald Trump was lying. And everyone in the Trump Organization, the Trump campaign was lying about how late into the campaign year of 2016 were do they nego -- were they in negotiations or at least contact with Russians about the possibility of a Trump Tower Moscow.

I want to come back to the campaign finance violations. And Jennifer Rodgers, I hope you're still with us in New York. The president says -- I assume the president's lawyers cringe when he gives media interviews.

Evan Perez was just making the case and I get this. The president could say, I didn't want to embarrass my wife, I didn't want to embarrass my family. We decided whether these affairs happened or not. We decided to pay off these women to keep them silent to protect my family.

It's the timing that makes it so interesting because the affairs happened years ago. The payments were made in the middle of the presidential campaign. The president of the United States said this to Reuters yesterday in an interview.

"Michael Cohen is a lawyer. I assumed he would know what he's doing. You rely on somebody. Hey, he was a lawyer. 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."

Based on what we did.

The president of the United States right there is saying he was part of these payments with Michael Cohen. The president doesn't get to decide nor do I think he has a full understanding of what's civil, what's criminal, what's misdemeanor, what's felony. If you were his attorney, I assume that would make you bang something. Let me just put it that way.

JENNIFER RODGERS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: That's right. He's in a lot of trouble here. I mean -- and he's admitted it, Rudy Giuliani has admitted it. You know, it doesn't have to be that it's just the purpose of influencing the campaign. It can be a dual purpose. It can be that he wanted to cover it up for his wife and embarrassment in his family.

And it can be that it was right in the heat of the last few weeks of the campaign and he needed to shut these women up. And if that is one of the purposes, then he's guilty of that violation.

And, you know, you can point to the John Edwards case all you want. That was a different set of facts and this issue as to what the purpose of the campaign contribution was is an issue of fact. It is for the jury to decide. It is not something that can be determined before charges are brought or dismissed on a motion to dismiss on a legal basis in front of a judge. It's an issue of fact and if prosecutors are able to bring the case whether now or in 2021 or at some point, that's where it will be decided in the courtroom with the jury.

KING: And we'll see how they proceed there.

Here's another one of these only in Washington moments about the cast of characters involved where you saw Michael Avenatti, a few moments ago. Mr. Cohen is represented by Lanny Davis, he was also one of Bill Clinton's attorneys back when they were trying impeachment back in the day. I covered the White House in those days.

Lanny Davis has now issued a statement on behalf of Michael Cohen. He says, "Michael has owned up to his mistakes and fully cooperated with Special Counsel Mueller and his investigation over possible Trump campaign pollution the trash in meddling in the 2016 election. While Mr. Mueller gave Michael significant credit for cooperation on the core issues, it is unfortunate that Southern district of New York prosecutors did not do the same. To me, their judgment showed a lack of appropriate proportionality."

That from Lanny Davis. He goes on in the statement to saying, "I look forward to assisting Michael to stay publicly. When the investigation is over, I look forward to assisting Michael to state publicly all he knows about Mr. Trump. And that includes any appropriate congressional committee testimony and any committee interest in a search for the truth."

[12:35:02] So a, this is not over. B, Lanny Davis is saying Michael Cohen has more.

PACE: And we do know that some of the congressional committees want him to come back to Capitol Hill in part because they know that they were lied to about the Trump Tower piece of this. But I do think that you're going to see him depending on when he has to report to jail, be top of the list, particularly for the House Intelligence Committee which is now going to be run by Democrats and can certainly potentially other committees overtime.

MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: This issue of his false testimony to Congress potentially is of greater liability for the president. If it's in fact provable that Cohen, as it was set out in the sentencing memorandum of Mueller, spoke to the White House about his testimony and there is evidence that the White House influenced his lying testimony, that is a much easier prosecution than the false state -- the campaign finance statements.

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: And I think it's not just that. I mean, you know, we have been talking obviously about the campaign finance violations. You know, this is where the president is most clearly implicated in this but when you look at, you know, the special counsel's interest in Michael Cohen, they were very interested in the Trump Tower Moscow project and how long that went on. And they weren't just interested in that because they care about suddenly investigating the Trump business. They're interested in it to see if there was some kind of collusion mechanism there. If there were some reason, you know, that Donald Trump might have been getting some favorable treatment from Russia and, you know, make him want to treat them favorably in exchange.

In addition to, whether he was working with the president or other people in the White House as he was, you know, creating this false testimony to Congress. So I think there are a lot of places where Donald Trump could potentially be exposed, not just on what Michael Cohen gave to SDNY but also what he gave the special counsel.

KING: And to back up that point, because the office of special counsel representative at the sentencing today saying almost nothing. Saying, Michael, we believe he's told the truth, we believe he's cooperated. Not sharing anything about other investigations.


PEREZ: Keep in mind, at the beginning of this, the Trump team was paying for his legal fees and so that is also part of the story. Does the Trump Organization face any consequences for what Michael Cohen says he did.

KING: We need to take a quick break. Sorry. We'll continue the breaking news coverage in just a minute. Again, Michael Cohen, sentenced to three years in federal prison. How will it impact the president? How it will impact all the investigations here in Washington.

Be back in a moment.


[12:42:00] KING: Back to our breaking news.

Long time Trump attorney and fixer Michael Cohen sentenced to three years in prison for financial crimes. Some of them -- most of them, nothing to do with businessman candidate or President Donald Trump. But one of the crimes, alleged campaign finance violations, the payments to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal which the Southern District of New York federal prosecutors say Michael Cohen made they say illegally in violation of campaign laws. And they also say at the direction of thee then Republican nominee Donald Trump.

CNN's Kara Scannell was inside the courtroom. And Kara, take us back inside that courtroom. You were talking about the emotion of Cohen's family earlier when they heard the sentence but in delivering the sentence, the judge wanted to send a message, right?

SCANNELL: That's right, John. He really emphasized more than once that the importance of this case in this especially given the high publicity value of it was the need for deterrence. And he said that, you know, there is an acute need for a sentence to reflect the seriousness of the offenses here and to respect the law. So the judge was sending a strong message.

He said in fact earlier before he delivered the sentence that because of the crimes in this case and because of the public nature of the importance to the democracy that the sentence in this case needed to be amplified so people would know that they should tell the truth. So the judge was pretty firm on that, and he also acknowledged that, you know, a lot of the crimes that Cohen committed defrauded the U.S. by not paying his taxes. And that it was not just isolated to the campaign finance crimes that we talked so much about. And he said he even thought that the -- what's considered under the statutory -- the sentencing guidelines of what covers lying to Congress, he said, he didn't think those were tough enough because it's such a serious offense.

So the judge was sending a message today, a strong message that the American public cannot be deceived. And that, especially a lawyer like Michael Cohen that him committing these offenses was unacceptable. So, he set the sentence, you know, more than I think most people in the courtroom expected, 36 months, three years. And Michael Cohen will report on March 6th to prison so he has some time now to consider all these offenses.

But it was also very interesting, John here, you know, Michael Cohen, you know, say that today was his day of freedom because he was finally under the thumb of Trump and the Trump Organization. And that was a quite emotional moment as well in the courtroom, John.

KING: Kara Scannell who is in the courtroom. And I want to go back to CNN's MJ Lee who has been doing some great reporting on Michael Cohen in recent months. You hear, MJ, Kara Scannell there saying Michael Cohen feeling free, out from under the thumb if you will of Donald Trump.

However, as we've been discussing, there are congressional committees that want to talk to him, and there's the possibility the Southern District of New York will come back to him for more information. And there's the likelihood if not certainty, the office of special counsel will continue to talk to Michael Cohen.

What else do we know? Where is this -- where could this be heading, if you will?

MJ LEE, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Look, John, even though this day is over and we saw Michael Cohen and his family driving away in that car. The Michael Cohen story is far, far from over and I'm thinking that could be just beginning.

[12:45:01] He has made it very, very clear that he intends to continue cooperating with investigators. And last week, we sort of found out the broad strokes of how Michael Cohen has been cooperating including sharing with Special Counsel Robert Mueller's office conversations that he had with people close to the White House, conversations that he had with people at the Trump Organization. And just think ahead to the few months that Michael Cohen has ahead of him, right?

He is now going home where he is going to wait for a little less than three months to report to prison on March 6th. That is a lot of time for Michael Cohen to be sitting at home sort of stewing over what is to come and what has come to him, right?

It is clear from both today and our reporting over the months that Michael Cohen has come to the conclusion that Donald Trump was the mastermind in all of this. That he was the puppeteer and Michael Cohen was simply the puppet. And now he is going to go home anticipating this three-year sentence while he clearly feels like this was actually more Donald Trump's fault even though Michael Cohen acknowledges that he had responsibility and he had -- he played a role in all of this. He feels like he is in this position because of his former boss.

So if he is cooperating with this sort of mindset, just imagine the things that he might be more open and willing to say to investigators.

The other thing that I think is worth thinking about is the fact that Michael Cohen has been relatively quiet ever since we found out about his legal troubles and that FBI raid back in April because of the constraints of the ongoing investigations. He didn't want to put himself in more legal jeopardy.

Now that this sentencing has happened, he sort of has nothing more to lose or he might see things that way. You might see a Michael Cohen who is more unleashed. We may even see him feeling more free to do media and do more interviews with reporters. Something he really has not been doing as these things have been working its way through the court system. And the response that that might encourage from the president himself when he looks up on the T.V. and potentially sees Michael Cohen talking about all of this, that might have the effect of making Donald Trump even more angry than he already is.

So all of these things culminating together into what could be an even more dramatic couple of months as Michael Cohen, as he awaits his jail sentence and report to prison on March 6th, continues to cooperate and is willing to continue talking to investigators.


KING: And for two of those months, MJ, before he goes to prison, the Democrats will be in control of the House, in control of the House. So may see Mr. Cohen on this end of (INAUDIBLE) quarter.

Again, we're going to take a quick break. Michael Cohen sentenced to three years in prison. We're going to get some reaction from Capitol Hill, waiting to see if there's any reaction from the president of the United States and his aides at the White House as well in addition to the president's legal team.

Stay with that breaking news. We'll be right back.


[12:52:26] KING: Back to our breaking news.

Reaction starting to come in after this big day for Michael Cohen. Three years in federal prison for nine crimes, eight of which are financial crimes involving businesses he had in New York, tax evasion and the like.

One of the crimes, lying to Congress about candidate Trump's ties with Russia during the 2016 campaign. One of the other crimes alleged in New York, campaign finance violations. Again, Michael Cohen says he was directed by then candidate, Republican nominee Donald Trump to break the law in paying off Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal to buy their silence.

This from Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, quote, significant sentence for Cohen recognizes that his crimes was serious and sophisticated (INAUDIBLE) Trump was too as unindicted co- conspirator.

Now that is to the campaign finance allegation. The other thing we know that Michael Cohen has alleged, again back to the Trump Tower Moscow projects. He has alleged there were deeper ties with Russians, earlier ties with Russians back in 2015 he now says. And throughout the campaign, the president of the United States, remember, as a candidate and just after the election said, no, never, none. There were no contacts with Russia.

Significant, the president changed the story in an interview with Reuters yesterday. He said, the stuff you're talking about is peanut stuff. So the president going from no, never, none, by him or any of his people, now acknowledging his people but peanut stuff. Why is that significant?

ZELDIN: Because they're admitting essentially the core allegation that Mueller is investigating. That if this stuff happened, they say, yes, it was perhaps improper but it was small. He just -- that's not how the way the law works. It's improper, it's improper. And they suffer the consequences of their own, you know, sort of facility with Twitter.

You know, I just don't understand why they keep talking. The other things on that, that he have to understand is that the Trump Organization paid back Cohen, executives paid Cohen through his securest means. Those guys in that organization are subject to indictment. They're not immune like the president is.

KING: And the Trump Organization, we already know the CFO has been in touch with Southern District of New York prosecutors. And we also know that Donald Trump Jr. is an officer in the organization. Ivanka Trump was an officer in that organization. Therefore, this is why the president is mad and thinks this is becoming not only about him but about his family and his business.

PACE: The Trump Organization is so central to Trump's own identity. Almost as much as being president now and in part because he puts so much stock in his reputation as a good businessman but also because it's his children who are at the top of that organization right now. This is a conflation of family and business.

MURRAY: This was his biggest fear when the special counsel was named that he felt like this could -- this investigation could extend anywhere, and the biggest fear was always that it would extend into the family business.

[12:55:04] That it would put his kids at risk and his legacy as a businessman at risk.

Yes, Trump loves being president but he loved that he created this sort of Trump enterprise. KING: And it's such a striking chapter today in the sense that Michael Cohen once said I'll take a bullet for Mr. Trump standing up in court as he --

PEREZ: And now he's stabbing him in the back.

KING: -- saying, I did it all because of Mr. Trump.

PEREZ: Now, it's absolutely, you know, that this is so important, the idea that during the time that Trump is saying that there were no contacts with the Russians. There were not only where there contacts but also the Russians were busy interfering in the U.S. election which is the central allegation which the president by the way is yet to acknowledge. He doesn't really want to admit to that. And so, that's the thing that is going to keep coming back and it's going to keep coming back, and we'll see more of it in the investigation.

KING: The question is, how will Mueller putting the pieces together if ever?

All right, thanks for staying with us today throughout the breaking news on INSIDE POLITICS. See you back here this time tomorrow. Brianna Keilar starts after a quick break.

Have a great day.