Return to Transcripts main page


Cohen Sentenced to Three Years; Rep. Schiff: Constitution Doesn't Prohibit Indicting President; Trump Seething After Cohen Sentencing, Calls Cohen a Liar. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired December 12, 2018 - 17:00   ET


RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Jeffrey Smith also says that he said that Dowless and Harris met on multiple occasions -- Jake.

[17:00:07] JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Ryan Nobles in North Carolina, I thank you. Our coverage on CNN continues right now.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news. Not "the villain." Former Trump personal attorney, Michael Cohen, is sentenced to three years in prison and ordered to pay almost $2 million. He admits to carrying out what he calls Mr. Trump's dirty deeds but says he wants to make sure history won't record him as the villain of Trump's stories.

Tabloid involvement. The publisher of "The National Enquirer" strikes a deal with prosecutors, admitting that it worked with Cohen and members of the Trump campaign on a hush-money payment to a former "Playboy" model to help Donald Trump win the White House.

Going nuts. President Trump silent so far on Michael Cohen's sentence but said to be privately seething. And he's brushing off questions about his associates' contacts with Russians during the campaign as, quote, "peanut stuff."

And "tortured" spy. The Russian government calls accused Russian agent Maria Butina a political prisoner and accuses the U.S. of torturing her in what it says was a, quote, "medieval inquisition." Tonight, new details of her case.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Breaking news this hour. A three-year sentence for President Trump's former fixer and personal attorney, Michael Cohen. He now says he covered up his boss's, quote, "dirty deeds," including hush-money payments to illegally help the Trump campaign by silencing women who say they had affairs with Mr. Trump.

Moments after Cohen's sentencing, prosecutors revealed an agreement with the parent company of "The National Enquirer," which admits it took part in one payment with Cohen and in concert with, quote, "a presidential campaign."

I'll talk about the breaking news with Congressman Adam Schiff. He's the top Democrat on the Intelligence Committee. And our correspondents, analysts and specialists are also standing by.

First, let's get right to the breaking news. Our national correspondent, Athena Jones, is joining us. Athena, Michael Cohen is the fourth person sentenced in connection with the Mueller probe and his is, by far, the longest.

ATHENA JONES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf. That's right. That sentence is the longest.

Michael Cohen said today, "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." So once again, he implicated President Trump in two felonies.

But when it comes to taking full responsibility, Cohen tried to have it both ways, painting himself as a victim of Trump, while also trying to play the hero for cooperating with investigators. \\


JONES (voice-over): Three years. That's how long President Trump's former personal attorney and long-time fixer, Michael Cohen, will have to spend in prison after pleading guilty in August to tax evasion, bank fraud and campaign finance violations. And just last month, to lying to Congress.

It's the first time a member of Trump's inner circle has received significant prison time in connection with Special Counsel Robert Mueller's Russia probe.

It was a day of reckoning for Cohen, joined at the federal courthouse by his family. And it brought more bad headlines for Trump.

After detailing a pattern of deception by Cohen, federal prosecutors asked for a substantial prison sentence. U.S. District Judge William Pauley agreed, saying Cohen "thrived on his access to wealthy and powerful people, and he became one himself."

In brief remarks in court, Cohen, who once prided himself on being Trump's lawyer and even said he'd take a bullet for the president, painted himself as a victim, saying about Trump, "time and time again, I felt it was my duty to cover up his dirty deeds." Cohen adding, "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."

Cohen has pledged to continue to cooperate with Mueller's investigation into possible collusion with Russia and obstruction of justice. Speaking of the president, he said he is committed to "ensuring that history will not remember me as the villain of his story."

In admitting to illegally orchestrating hush payments to former "Playboy" model Karen McDougal and adult film star Stormy Daniels to keep them quiet about alleged affairs with Trump before the 2016 election, Cohen implicated the president, saying Trump directed him to make the payments, something federal prosecutors noted in court papers.

Trump has denied the affairs and any knowledge of the payments, despite being recorded discussing the McDougal payment with Cohen.

MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER LAWYER FOR DONALD TRUMP: When it comes time for the financing, which will be --


COHEN: Well, I have to pay --

TRUMP: Pay in cash.

COHEN: No. No, no, no, no, no. I've got it.

JONES: Cohen also admitted to lying to Congress and to special counsel investigators about talks to build a Trump Tower in Moscow. Negotiations with Russians lasted until June 2016, even after Trump had become the presumptive Republican nominee, despite Cohen originally telling investigators talks ended in January.

[17:05:12] And Cohen admitted he discussed the project with then- candidate Trump. Throughout the campaign, Trump frequently proclaimed he had no ties and no business in Russia.

TRUMP: I have nothing to do with Russia, folks. OK? I'll give you a written statement. Nothing to do --

JONES: Prosecutors view Cohen's lies about Russia contacts as part of an effort to alter the investigation into Russian election meddling, an ongoing probe that threatens more political and legal peril for the president.


JONES: Now, Judge Pauley also ordered Cohen must pay $1.4 million in restitution, forfeit $500,000 and pay a $50,000 fine. Cohen was ordered to report to prison in March -- Wolf.

BLITZER: You know, Athena, at the same time Cohen was sentenced, prosecutors made public for the first time that the owner of "The National Enquirer" admitted its role in the payoffs to the two women that Donald Trump allegedly had affairs with. What does the company say that -- about the campaign that they knew about the hush money?

JONES: This is important, and it's interesting. As part of this non- prosecution agreement, AMI admitted to making the hush payment to Karen McDougal for political reasons.

We also know that AMI met with at least one other person on the Trump campaign, meaning that Cohen didn't act alone here. Here's a key quote from the agreement.

"AMI made a payment in the amount of $150,000 in cooperation, consultation and concert with, and at the request and suggestion of one or more members or agents of a candidate's 2016 presidential campaign, to ensure that a woman did not publicize damaging allegations about that candidate before the 2016 presidential election, and thereby influence that election" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Those allegations had come out by those two women in the days immediately before the election, could have had an impact on the election, as we all know.

Athena, thank you very much. Athena Jones reporting.

Let's get some more on the breaking news. CNN reporter Kara Scannell is joining us; CNN chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto is with us, as well.

Kara, you were in that federal court today. The special counsel's lawyers said that Cohen will continue to cooperate on the Russia probe. What more does Cohen know about what he called the president's dirty deeds, and how damaging could his continued testimony be to the president?

KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Michael Cohen was Donald Trump's personal attorney for at least ten years, going back to 2007.

So he knows Trump, and he knows the Trump Organization very well. And, in fact, that's why he fashioned himself his fixer. He said he would go in and try to fix some of these issues.

Now, the special counsel's office has said today, in court, that he's continuing to cooperate up until this day. So they still find his cooperation of value. He's been in seven times to meet with the special counsel's office. They said they're continuing to talk to him, what they found him to be credible, reliable and useful testimony in cooperation from him.

Now, it remains to be seen exactly what Michael Cohen has on Donald Trump. And the special counsel's office isn't showing their hand just yet, Wolf.

BLITZER: Interesting. Jim, Cohen is going to prison, in part for a crime that prosecutors implicated the president in these hush-money payments to two women that Trump allegedly had affairs with. Should the president be worried about the legal trouble he potentially could face?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. Michael Cohen is going to prison for a crime in which he implicates the president. He said he did this at the direction of then-candidate Trump, and AMI, the parent company to "The National Enquirer," it as part of its cooperation agreement, says that it helped make -- facilitate this payment to Karen McDougal in concert with the Trump campaign and with the intention of influencing the election. That's one of the standards for breaking these campaign finance laws.

So that organization and the president's long-time lawyer and fixer both implicate the president in a crime that he is now going to go to jail for. And when the president leaves office, it's Justice Department policy now that you cannot indict a sitting president. But when he does leave office, the full possibility that the president could be indicted for the same crime that his long-time lawyer and fixer is going to serve hard jail time for.

BLITZER: That could be a nightmare for the president.

Kara, the president has denied knowing about the payments, but now "The National Enquirer" is admitting that it did work with at least one other member of the Trump campaign. How does that revelation hurt the president's defense?

SCANNELL: Well, Wolf, it's another witness to the -- you know, to this campaign finance violation, and the intent behind making these payments to Karen McDougal and then later the separate payment to Stormy Daniels.

So it's another potential witness that the U.S. Attorney's Office has spoken to. And as Jim was just saying, you know, while the president is in office, DOJ policy is that they wouldn't indict him. But these payments came in October 2016.

[17:10:03] So, you know, if Trump does not win reelection, the statute of limitations will -- will be open until at least October 2016. So there is certainly still a lot of legal jeopardy on the table for the president.

And also as part of that non-prosecution agreement, it also in that statement of offense, noted that AMI has made multiple employees available. We know that David Pecker, the chairman, had received immunity for his cooperation. And so AMI has cooperated completely and fully.

So whatever other information, documents, e-mails, notes that they have, you know, could be used as the U.S. Attorney's Office continues going down the road on this case, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, David Pecker, the publisher, the owner of The National Enquirer, he used to be -- used to be -- a good friend of the president's.

Jim, today's sentencing comes, what, a day after President Trump's fired national security adviser, Michael Flynn, revealed that he had been cooperating with Mueller for the much longer than previously known. So what does that tell you about Mueller's view into the Trump campaign in the very early days of the administration?

SCIUTTO: It tells you that the Mueller investigation into Trump campaign and administration ties and communications with Russia. Core to this investigation, not side issues, not campaign payments to women, et cetera, not just that, but that its investigation into Russia, what started all this, continues.

And crucially now, the president's former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, is cooperating on that issue of the investigation. He spoke to the special counsel, we learned, for 62 hours, provided thousands of documents, including onto communications with Russia during the transition. Not just during the campaign. Because remember, Michael Flynn's conversations that he lied about with the Russian ambassador, that took place in December 2016, after the election, talking about sanctions on Russia.

So that part of the investigation is open. And keep in mind, Michael Cohen cooperating on that part of the investigation, as well. I'm quoting here from what the special counsel's office said in that courtroom today about Michael Cohen's cooperation. Said that it is "on core Russia-related issues within the purview of the special counsel's offices."

So you will hear from the president, you will hear from his lawyer, you will hear from his advisers this has nothing to do with him, nothing to do with Russia, nothing to do with collusion. That is not what you're hearing stated in those courtrooms today about both Flynn's and Cohen's cooperation.

BLITZER: Yes. Very, very significant material. All right, Jim Sciutto, Kara Scannell, thanks very much.

Let's get some more on all of this. Joining us, Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff. He's the top Democrat, the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee.

Congressman, thanks so much for joining us.

You reacted to all this news today by tweeting this. And let me read from your tweet. "Michael Cohen made the right decision to cooperate with the special counsel's office. His sentencing today demonstrates that nobody is above the law, not the personal lawyer to the president of the United States or the president himself."

As you know, the president has been implicated in the crimes for which Michael Cohen is now going to prison. So how do you think the president will be held accountable?

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA), RANKING MEMBER, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Well, I think the more significant development in the case today than the sentence that Michael Cohen received was the fact that there's this non-prosecution agreement with AMI, that parent of "The National Enquirer."

Because what that means is, this is not simply Michael Cohen's word against Donald Trump's. It is now Donald Trump's word against everyone else. That there are witnesses at AMI who will testify these payments were made for the express purpose of influencing the election, by depriving voters of knowledge of these stories of women coming forward to say they had affairs with the candidate for the president. That is powerful corroboration.

There is apparently another witness within the Trump Organization that also corroborates what Michael Cohen has to say. So that to me is the most significant development.

You know, and I would say this on that statute of limitations question that you mentioned, Wolf. And that is, I think the Justice Department needs to reexamine that OLC opinion, Office of Legal Counsel opinion, that you cannot indict a sitting president under circumstances in which the failure to do so may mean that person escapes justice.

Because if it were the case that it was now or never, that if you wait until after the president leaves office, they can no longer be brought to justice, that ought to create, certainly, an exception to that OLC rule, if not mean revisiting and revising the rule all together.

BLITZER: So am I hearing you correctly? You say indict him now, and maybe try him after he leaves office? Is that what I'm hearing?

SCHIFF: Well, what I'm saying, Wolf, is I don't think that the Justice Department ought to take the position -- and it's certainly not one that would be required in any way by the Constitution -- that a president, merely by being in office, can be above the law, can escape the enforcement of the law, by essentially waiting out the law, by waiting out the statute of limitations.

[17:15:07] So there ought to be a mechanism to make sure that that is not the case, whether that means revisiting the OLC opinion that -- and allowing the indictment of a sitting president and staying the prosecution, or allowing both the indictment and prosecution. But I think those issues may be foursquare before the Justice Department.

Now, the department may wish to wait to resolve those issues to determine whether they're ripe in the sense of that may not be an issue if the president is not reelected. But I think that now is something that the Justice Department needs to consider.

BLITZER: Because I remember on Sunday, you suggested that he should be indicted, potentially, after he leaves office and not necessarily while he's still in office. What changed between Sunday and now?

SCHIFF: You know, I wasn't saying the president should be indicted when he leaves office. But it seems to me that it is very likely that bob Mueller will adhere to this OLC opinion; that he will make the judgment that, while the Constitution doesn't prohibit him from seeking an indictment, that there are prudential reasons why he might not do that. That he would follow this precedent set by the OLC.

But if there is an issue about whether justice can be had after he leaves office, I think that ought to get the Justice Department to examine whether either an exception to that policy is necessary or whether a reconsideration of that policy is in order.

BLITZER: The prosecutors said today that AMI, the parent company of "The National Enquirer," made that hush-money payment "in cooperation, consultation and concert with and at the request and suggestion of one or more members or agents of the candidate's 2016 presidential campaign." That's a direct quote.

So what might AMI be able to reveal about President Trump's role in all of this?

SCHIFF: Well, that's really the million-dollar question. And that is, did AMI, its officers, have direct contact with Donald Trump about this? Were they part of the conversations where they either offered or the president solicited the help that they provided in capturing and killing these stories?

So was that -- were they part of direct conversations, direct communications with Donald Trump? That would obviously be the most powerful evidence. Or were they in communication with others in the Trump Organization that would corroborate Michael Cohen?

BLITZER: The head of AMI -- and we've been showing viewers some pictures of David Pecker -- he has an immunity agreement in exchange for his full cooperation.

Allen Weisselberg, the chief financial officer of the Trump Organization, interestingly, also has an immunity agreement in exchange for his full cooperation. And there's been a sense, at least among some that I know, that Weisselberg, he knows a lot. He knows everything that was going on. Is he a big deal, potentially?

SCHIFF: Well, he certainly could be on great many issues. This hush- money payment, considering that it is alleged that he had a role in that.

But it may also be that, with respect to other information Michael Cohen can provide about the Trump Organization, about the effort to make this Trump Tower deal in Moscow or other financial entanglement with the Russians, you would imagine that the CFO, the chief financial officer, or the accountant for the organization itself, may know where the financial bodies are buried. So he could be, obviously, a very key witness.

BLITZER: As we have been discussing, you've said that the president could be indicted while he's in office, after he leaves office, related to the Michael Cohen crimes.

But the president told Reuters last night that he was simply relying on his lawyer, namely Michael Cohen, and that there was no violation, he said, because the payments were civil. What do you make of that defense?

SCHIFF: I don't make much of it, honestly, given the nature of the discussions. I think there will be ample opportunity for the department, if it pursues this, to demonstrate that the president knew what he was doing was wrong, knew what he was doing was unlawful, and was prepared to do it anyway.

What we have found consistently, Wolf, is you can't rely on any of the president's representations. Because, of course, he said he knew nothing about this. He had no discussions with it. Now we know all of that is false. He said when the sentencing memoranda came out that essentially, thank you, "that has completely vindicated me" when it was quite the opposite. So the last person we can rely on this is Donald Trump.

But nonetheless, the department needs hard evidence. They may very well have it. And I think it's vitally important that the department adhere to the principle no one is above the law. And all of the arguments they made against Michael Cohen, all of the arguments they made as to why the seriousness of this offense justified his going to jail, that the rich and powerful don't operate by a set of different standards as those that were walking precincts or putting bumper stickers on the car or making calls. All of those arguments apply with even greater force to Mr. Trump.

[17:20:08] BLITZER: Very quickly, our last question, Congressman. Cohen is scheduled now to begin his prison sentence in early March. You're going to be the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. Are you going to call Cohen to testify before your committee before your committee before he starts that prison sentence?

SCHIFF: We are already in touch with his counsel. We are very eager to have him come and testify. I was very pleased to see today that one of his lawyers issued a statement saying that he is more than willing to come and cooperate and share what he knows with us. And we certainly intend to take him up on that.

BLITZER: Publicly, will he appear before the cameras?

SCHIFF: You know, we'll have to make a decision on a case-by-case basis which interviews are conducted in open session and which in closed session. That may be the product of some internal discussion and debate, or agreement with witnesses, depending on the circumstances. So at this point, I can't say.

BLITZER: We're voting for open session with the cameras there, as you probably fully understand.


BLITZER: Congressman Adam Schiff, thanks so much for joining us.

SCHIFF: Thank you.

BLITZER: The breaking news continues here in THE SITUATION ROOM. We're learning details of President Trump's reaction to Michael Cohen's sentencing. The president said to be seething at his former fixer and lawyer.

And what legal troubles could the president be facing as the Mueller investigation closes in?


[17:25:54] BLITZER: We're following breaking news. President Trump said to be seething at his former fixer and lawyer, Michael Cohen, who's been sentenced to three years in prison. Our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta, is joining us right now.

Jim, so far the president, I understand, hasn't said anything publicly today about Cohen's sentence.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. President Trump bit his tongue today, turning down a chance to weigh in on Michael Cohen's prison sentence. The president isn't likely to maintain that silence for very long as the special counsel's investigation is now moving on to its next targets.

Privately, the president, as you said, Wolf, is said to be seething, furious about the Cohen's case and referring to his former fixer behind the scenes as a, quote, "liar."


ACOSTA (voice-over): At the unveiling of a new executive order at the White House, President Trump's signature was punctuated with silence. That spoke volumes, as he refused to comment on the three-year sentence handed down to his long-time fixer, Michael Cohen.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Any comment about the Cohen sentencing?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. President, your reaction to Michael Cohen's sentencing?

ACOSTA: The president is now in a fix, as Cohen heads to prison for his role in hush-money payments to two women who alleged affairs with Mr. Trump before the 2016 election. Cohen, who once echoed the "Lock her up" rhetoric from the campaign, tweeting, "When you go to prison for defrauding America and perjury, your room and board will be free!", told prosecutors he was directed to make those payments by the president. That's not how the president explained it to reporters earlier this year.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. President, did you know about the $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels?

TRUMP: No. No. Well, you have to ask Michael Cohen. Michael is my -- an attorney. And you'll have to ask Michael Cohen.

ACOSTA: Despite the mounting legal worries for the president, he insists he's not afraid of being impeached, telling Reuters, "I'm not concerned. No. I think that the people would revolt if that happened."

But a source close to the president told CNN Mr. Trump sees impeachment as a real possibility, as explained to voters before the midterms.

TRUMP: They like to use the "impeach" word. "Impeach Trump." Maxine Waters, "We will impeach him." But he didn't do anything wrong. "It doesn't matter. We will impeach him!"

How do you impeach somebody that's doing a great job? That hasn't done anything wrong? Our economy is good. How do you do it?

ACOSTA: The president is blaming the mistress money on his former attorney, saying, "Michael Cohen is a lawyer. I assume he would know what he's doing."

And as for other campaign aides and associates ensnared in the Russia probe, Mr. Trump complains, "The stuff you're talking about is peanut stuff."

TRUMP: The last time, Chuck, you shut it down.


ACOSTA: Away from the investigation, the president may still decide to shut down the government to secure funding for his border wall, the subject of his Oval Office brawl with Democratic leaders. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer all but accused the president of acting like a child.

SCHUMER: Because Leader Pelosi and I simply didn't go along with him, President Trump threw a temper tantrum and promised to shut the government unless he got what he wanted.

ACOSTA: With a spending bill expiring before the holidays, the president doesn't sound like he's backing down.

SEN. JOHN KENNEDY (R), LOUISIANA: If it's shut down, it's a pox on all of our houses. I don't think President Bluff [SIC] -- President Trump is bluffing, and I don't think Speaker Pelosi is going to give an inch, because she wants to be speaker.

ACOSTA: The president is pointing to the latest terror attack in France as proof the U.S. needs the wall, tweeting, "We are going to strengthen our borders even more. Chuck and Nancy must give us the votes to give additional border security."

But a wall would not have helped in France, where authorities say the suspect in that attack was born in that country.


ACOSTA: As for Michael Cohen, his saga may not be over just yet. One former adviser to Cohen, the former attorney to Michael Cohen, Lanny Davis, says the president's former fixer is open to testifying in front of the cameras when Democrats take control of the House early next year.

Wolf, as Adam Schiff was just telling you a few moments ago, that could certainly be in front of his committee, but it could be other committees, as well, according to Lanny Davis. It sounds like Michael Cohen wants to continue to tell his side of the story -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Certainly does. Jim Acosta at the White House, thank you.

We're going to talk about all the breaking news. Our experts are here, our correspondents and our analysts. We have lots to discuss right after this.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news. President Trump's former attorney, Michael Cohen, told a federal judge today that he committed multiple crimes in order to, his words, "cover up Donald Trump's dirty deeds." The judge sentenced Cohen to three years in prison, but Cohen says he's willing to continue cooperating with his special counsel, Robert Mueller's Russia investigation.

[17:32:54] Let's get some more from our experts and correspondents.

You know, you were there with the president. You were the pool reporter when the president was speaking about another issue. A bunch of reporters shouted questions. What did you think? He didn't want to talk about this at all, Kaitlan.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: He didn't say anything. And you can tell when President Trump does want to speak at events like that. Because it wasn't that long ago, back in April, that after the FBI first raided Michael Cohen's house, office and hotel, that President Trump was at a meeting, not about Michael Cohen, obviously. It was focused, I believe, on Syria.

And he's sitting there flanked by these military officers. And then when reporters came into the room, the president started speaking about Michael Cohen, saying that the raid was a disgrace and calling Michael Cohen a good man. Times have changed a lot.

President Trump did not want to answer any questions about Michael Cohen today about him being sentenced to three years in prison, although he did say last week that he thought Michael Cohen should get the full sentence for what he did.

But also, one of President Trump's biggest arguments with this and his legal team, including Rudy Giuliani, is that this is not directly related to the president. But it's going to be hard for them to argue that today after what we saw not only with Michael Cohen in being directly related to the president and implicating the president, but also now that the prosecutors have said that they've reached this deal with AMI, the publisher of "The National Enquirer," directly tying that payment to Karen McDougal, who alleged an affair with Trump, to the Trump campaign.

BLITZER: And the -- and the president is being described as seething right now as a result of all of this.

Jeffrey, the three-year sentence that Michael Cohen got, what's the message that sends to the president?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Well, you know, it's a serious sentence. Under federal law, you always have to serve 85 percent of what you get. So he's looking at at least two-and-a-half years in prison. For a white-collar sentence, that's a lot.

And it is also a message that people around the president are going to prison. I mean, you know, if a year ago, you had told any of us that Michael Cohen would be going to prison, we would all have been flabbergasted. I mean, this guy was really close to the president.

BLITZER: For a decade.

TOOBIN: For a decade. But because this, you know, has been in the news so much, we've sort of lost our ability to be shocked. But it's worth remembering, this is pretty shocking. BLITZER: You know, Michael Cohen, Sabrina, he managed to say that he

takes full responsibility for his crimes, but at the same time, implicating the president of the United States today. So what is his strategy now?

[17:35:10] SABRINA SIDDIQUI, "THE GUARDIAN": Well, Michael Cohen is someone who just over a year ago said he would take a bullet for the president. But a lot can change in just over a year.

And I think what Michael Cohen learned is that, when it comes to this president, loyalty is a one-way street. And sources close to Michael Cohen, they told me that he's been -- he's felt abandoned by this president. He first was disappointed not to get a job in this administration; and then when these legal troubles mounted, he felt like the president left him out to dry, also trying to undermine his character in several tweets that Michael Cohen himself referenced today in court.

And I think that, you know, it's certainly safe to say you have to take some of Michael Cohen's comments about going down this dark path because of his blind loyalty to Trump with a grain of salt. There are certainly several crimes he committed that he was charged for that have nothing to do with the president.

But he also had a very clear message to President Trump, which effectively amounted to, "If I'm going down, then I'm taking you down with me." And that's precisely why the president's team was so concerned about Cohen and his cooperation with investigators.

BLITZER: You know, Ron Brownstein, the whole AMI, the David Pecker, the parent company of "The National Enquirer," that is all of a sudden -- he's got immunity in exchange exchange for its full cooperation. Very damning statements from "The National Enquirer," American Media, David Pecker, as far as the president is concerned.

But listen to this tape. This is Michael Cohen and the president talking about the hush-money payments involving Karen McDougal, and the name Allen Weisselberg all of a sudden comes up. Listen to this audiotape.


MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER ATTORNEY FOR DONALD TRUMP: I've spoken to Allen Weisselberg about how to set the whole thing up with --

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: So what do we got to pay for this? One-fifty?

COHEN: -- funding. Yes. And it's all the stuff.


BLITZER: Allen Weisselberg, the chief financial officer of the Trump Organization, he also received, like David Pecker, immunity in exchange for his cooperation. Presumably, he's cooperating. They don't grant these kinds of immunity deals very easily, do they? RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: No. And, in fact, if

you're sitting there, you know, as the president in the White House; and you're looking at all of these other principles in these transactions, receiving immunity, you have to ask yourself, who's left that they are -- that they are exempting these people so as to provide testimony about it?

And the answer is, of course, only the president. And I think all of this is indication of why these charges are a time bomb politically that have not fully detonated yet. Because you have the president's fixer and lawyer going to jail, in part for crimes that the prosecutors -- not only Mr. Cohen, but the prosecutors -- said he committed at the direction of and in coordination with the president.

We've had Republicans essentially shrugging their shoulders, saying no big deal. But the fact that the president is an unindicted co- conspirator and, for all intents, in these crimes at this point is something that I think is going to reverberate in unpredictable ways through the next two years. You saw Adam Schiff increase the pressure on the Justice Department to reconsider not indicting a sitting president. There are going to be a lot of ways in which I think this is going to roil the political environment for quite a bit, all the way through the 2020 election.

TOOBIN: I wrote a profile of David Pecker for "The New Yorker" last year; and he was very open about the fact that he paid Karen McDougal because he wanted to help Donald Trump. And, you know, the legal implications of that, I don't think, were clear to any of us at that point. But the admission was clearly there.

And, you know, it's all -- it's important to remember, who benefited from these payments? Not Michael Cohen. Not "The National Enquirer." Because they didn't even run anything. It wasn't even a pay-to-play story. It was a catch-and-kill story. They killed the story about Karen McDougal. All of this was done for the benefit of Donald Trump. And the idea that he didn't know about it is pretty preposterous.

COLLINS: Well, and President Trump has not spoken out about David Pecker yet. But you know he's got to feel betrayed by all of this, as he does with Michael Cohen.

Michael Cohen has been one of those sensitive points for President Trump since that raid happened in April, and though the president didn't say anything publicly today to us, you can bet a tweet is likely coming, because behind the scenes, he's seething, we're told, talking about what a liar Michael Cohen is.

But he's not answering the obvious questions, which is, if you still deny that you had affairs with these women, then why did you make these payments? And if there is nothing wrong with these payments, as he told Reuters yesterday during that interview, he doesn't believe they're campaign finance violations, then why did he deny knowing about the payments?

BLITZER: Just wait until we hear what Allen Weisselberg has to say about this, because we don't know. Presumably the prosecutors do know. More breaking news, just ahead.


[17:43:45] BLITZER: There's more breaking news we're following. The British prime minister, Theresa May, has just survived a no-confidence vote triggered by members of her own Conservative Party over her handling of Britain's upcoming exit from the European Union.

CNN business editor at large, Richard Quest, is with us; CNN senior international correspondent Matthew Chance is also working the story for us.

First to you, Matthew, in London. What's the latest?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, latest is that tonight, Theresa May, the British prime minister, still has a job. She's still the British prime minister. She's overcome that vote of confidence from within her own party about her leadership.

But it's exposed enormous rifts in her party. More than 100 MPs, 117, voted against her leadership. That was 37 percent of the number of MPs that the Conservative Party has. And that underlines just how divided her party is.

And, of course, even though she's won tonight, it doesn't mean that the problem of Brexit has gone away, by any means. She's still a prime minister caught between a rock and a hard place.

And, of course, that the crisis that she's overcome means that all we are now is back to a situation where we were yesterday, which is that the crisis of Brexit still remains. She's still got a divided party, still has to go back to Brussels to try and seek concessions on that deal and then present it to not just her party but to the parliament here in Britain here behind me, which is also divided.

And so, you know, the future in terms of Theresa May bringing this country back together, bringing her party back together, looks very bleak indeed, Wolf.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Richard, now that she has survived this challenge, at least for the time being, what does it mean for the Brexit deal?

RICHARD QUEST, CNN INTERNATIONAL BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: We don't know, Wolf. That is the difficulty. Today was a political firework show. And now it's gone, we're back to the hard grind.

And the reality is that nobody -- and that includes, say, the U.S. government, the administration -- nobody knows what the position of Britain will be in. Will it be a hard Brexit where Britain could wreak havoc in the economies around the world? Will it be a soft Brexit?

Will Donald Trump be able to offer Theresa May some form of trade -- free trade deal olive branch? And that raises a whole raft of questions about the relationship between the U.K. and its closest overseas partner, the United States of America.

So our dilemma is to find, officiously (ph), a choice of equally unappealing choices. That's what's in tonight.

Theresa May survived, but there are so many difficulties that we are, by no means, out of this. And the U.S., the Trump administration, Wolf, will be watching it with alarming concern over what the trade relationship with the U.K. will be like.

BLITZER: Bottom line, Richard, we don't know how this is going to play out.

QUEST: None whatsoever. And as I've said before to you, Wolf, if anybody says they know how this is going to end, don't buy a bridge from them.

BLITZER: I won't buy any bridges. All right, Richard Quest, thank you.

Matthew Chance in London, thanks to you, as well.

And coming up, more on the breaking news. President Trump's former attorney and longtime fixer, Michael Cohen, admitted in federal court today that he covered up his boss' so-called dirty deeds. Does Cohen have more information to offer prosecutors?

But, first, Russia is accusing the United States of torturing the alleged spy, Maria Butina. Stand by, new information. We'll be right back.


[17:52:00] BLITZER: New tonight, top Russian officials are jumping to the defense of Maria Butina, the accused spy who allegedly tried to infiltrate conservative American political organizations.

Our senior international correspondent Fred Pleitgen is tracking the story for us from Moscow right now. Fred, what are you learning?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf. For some Russian officials, Maria Butina has become somewhat of a cause for them, especially the Russian Foreign Ministry which even changed the -- its Twitter picture to a picture of Maria Butina.

And what they're doing now is they're already saying that plea agreement that she is officially going to sign on to tomorrow, that she is doing that under duress. And they are saying that she is a political prisoner in the United States.

I got an exclusive interview today with the spokeswoman of the Russian Foreign Ministry, and here are some of the things that she said as she ripped into the U.S.


PLEITGEN (voice-over): Just hours before alleged Russian agent Maria Butina is set to formally enter a plea with U.S. authorities and after she's already begun cooperating with investigators, Moscow lashing out at America.

The spokeswoman for Russia's Foreign Ministry, in an exclusive interview with CNN, claiming Butina is a political prisoner and going even further.

MARIA ZAKHAROVA, DIRECTOR OF THE INFORMATION AND PRESS DEPARTMENT, RUSSIAN FEDERATION'S MINISTRY OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS: It's not about justice. It's not justice. It's just inquisition. It's medieval inquisition because she's intimidated. She was tortured, and she was treated not like a human being, not like a woman.

PLEITGEN (voice-over): There is nothing to indicate that Butina, who is in solitary confinement, has been tortured while in U.S. custody.

CNN has learned she gets regular visits from her lawyer and her boyfriend, Paul Erickson, and is able to speak to her parents in Russia. However, the hours Butina is allowed out of her cell are minimal and usually at night to prevent her from interacting with the regular prison population.

When contacted by CNN, the Justice Department refused to comment as the case is still pending.

Russia itself is often accused of jailing and killing dissidents and opposition figures for political reasons. Claims the Kremlin denies.

Butina, who cozied up to the National Rifle Association and other conservative organizations, is accused of working in the U.S. under the direction of a Russian official without registering as a foreign agent.

JOSEPH MORENO, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY PROSECUTOR: If she can explain who that official or officials were, what she was tasked with doing, what steps she took to actually conduct those tasks and who, if anyone, was complicit in those activities here in the United States.

PLEITGEN (voice-over): Butina's arrest was announced on the day President Trump met Vladimir Putin in Helsinki. Moscow also alleging the timing of the announcement was political.

ZAKHAROVA: All that happened just after two presidents met each other and held negotiations. And, of course, that was another evidence that this is a political case and she is a political prisoner.

PLEITGEN (voice-over): After the deal and her eventual release from jail, Butina will probably have to return to Russia where officials are already making her out to be a victim of the turmoil between the U.S. and Russia.


[17:55:09] PLEITGEN: And so one of the things that we expect, Wolf, is that when she does come back to Russia after having most probably been in jail in the United States, she'll probably get quite a warm welcome here from the Russians, which is a lot different than what the Russians are feeling right now between U.S./Russian relations.

One of the things that this case has showcased once again is that the Russians, really, are losing faith in President Trump and that he'll be able to restore good relations with the Russians.

Of course, that's something President Trump set out to do, something the Russians believed. They were obviously very happy when he got elected. But it's one of the things that the spokeswoman for the Foreign Ministry also said, is she believes that, right now, things are looking very dire for those prospects, Wolf.

BLITZER: Fred Pleitgen reporting live from Moscow. Thank you. It's an important story.

There's more breaking news coming up. President Trump said to be seething as his former fixer and lawyer, Michael Cohen, implicates him in crimes that now have Cohen facing three years in prison.


[17:59:55] BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. Dirty deeds. As Michael Cohen is ordered to do time in prison, he says his crimes were all about covering up for the President. With his former fixer being punished, will Mr. Trump also pay a price?