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Trump Says Cohen Prosecutors Are Trying to Embarrass Me; Trump's Legal Peril Grows as Ex-Friends Flip on Him; Trump Says, Don't Think We Made Payments to Tabloid -- Despite Evidence

Aired December 13, 2018 - 14:00   ET


[14:00:00] BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: Hi there, I'm Brooke Baldwin, you're watching CNN. A day after his former lawyer and loyalist was sentenced to three years in prison, President Trump is talking about Michael Cohen, calling him a liar, that despite that the fact that Cohen himself and federal prosecutors insist he is now telling the truth after years and years of covering up Trump's "dirty deeds" and that includes two hush money payments made at the direction of Donald Trump according to prosecutors. But moments ago, the President denied that in an interview with Fox News.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I never directed him to do anything wrong. Whatever he did, he did on his own. He's a lawyer. A lawyer who represents a client is supposed to do the right thing. That's why you pay them a lot of money, et cetera, et cetera. He is a lawyer. He represents a client. I never directed him to do anything incorrect or wrong. And he understands that. Number one, they say it's not a campaign finance violation. Number two -- or it's not even under campaign finance. Number two, if it was, it's not even a violation. Number three, it's a civil matter.


BALDWIN: So, let's be clear first on facts. Whether this is civil or criminal is not even in doubt. You can't plead guilty in federal court to criminal charges that are not criminal. Trump also responded to another deal the prosecutors cut with the parent company that owns the "National Enquirer," AMI admitting they paid Karen McDougal to silence her about her alleged affair with Donald Trump.


TRUMP: I don't think they paid any money to that tabloid.


BALDWIN: Let's be clear, it wasn't a majority, it wasn't more than Hillary Clinton, it was 41 percent of women according to exit polls that voted for President Trump. Let's analyze this and more. I have Larry Noble, former FEC General Counsel and editor at large Chris Cillizza. Chris, we'll get into the interview itself in a second. When you hear Trump say, "I don't think we made a payment to AMI", the but is that we know now that AMI admitted to making this $150,000 payment. So, Chris, do the math for me.

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS REPORTER AND EDITOR-AT-LARGE: Not just admitting to making the payment, Brooke. If you read the Southern District of New York press release, admitted to making it in concert with the Trump campaign. They were coordinating a payment with the Trump campaign to silence a woman who alleged she and Donald Trump had an affair and they were doing so because they thought her story coming out would have a negative influence on his chances in the election. Larry can speak much more eloquently to this than me, but that is not a civil settlement. That deals directly with cam pa campaign finance, in-wind contributions and Michael Cohen set up a shell company he repeatedly lied about, the funding of the donations, where they came from, who knew about them throughout 2017.

BALDWIN: Larry, go ahead. What do you think?

LARRY NOBLE, FORMER FEC GENERAL COUNSEL: Chris is right. Not reimbursing AMI doesn't get them off the hook. Ami got scared this would be a campaign finance violation and that they were involved with a campaign finance violation so their lawyers told them back out of this but they had already made the payment and that made it an in- kind. It was a knowing willful in-kind contribution. They knew that was a criminal offense. That made that a criminal offense.

[14:05:00] BALDWIN: All this civil talk, this is criminal, no if ands or buts about it, just to add in Larry hearing Trump say the reason Cohen and the SDNY did this was to embarrass him. Where is the evidence of that?

NOBLE: There is no evidence of that. He strikes out at everybody who has worked for him and now may be telling the truth. The way he does it is he says he hired Cohen as a favor. But the reality is he was using Cohen for advice and he was using Cohen as his fixer and you can't just say my lawyer didn't tell me this was a problem. Also, there's another thing that hasn't been discussed much. The actual counsel to the campaign was Don McGahn. If they were interested in making sure this complied with campaign finance laws, they would have discussed it with counsel. He may be waving the attorney/client privilege. He's getting himself deeper and deeper into trouble. He tends to do this because he lashes out at people. He doesn't think about or get advice on what the ramifications of lashing out?

CILLIZZA: Just to add to Larry's point about Cohen, one of the things Trump said about Cohen, we've seen him do this, call him coffee boy, he said very low level stuff I think was the quote in a Michael Cohen handled for him, except Donald Trump is admitting essentially that he entrusted Michael Cohen with paying off two women around campaign finance -- two women alleging affairs for him out of concern that would impact the election. It doesn't strike me that if you were doing something that sensitive, right, not just in your professional life but that sensitive in your personal life as well, hey, just get me out that guy we hired two weeks ago, bring him in it. What Michael Cohen was doing for Donald Trump that Donald Trump has admitted and Michael Cohen has pled guilty to is not the kind of stuff you entrust to someone who is a low-level employee. It's just not. BALDWIN: When you listen to Donald Trump, it's almost like Trump is

conceding that he lied, that he was involved, right, in making these hush payments. But if Trump did nothing wrong, as he says, why lie about it in the first place?

NOBLE: That's a really good question. He's moved from I didn't do it to I did do it but I didn't know it was illegal to I got bad advice from a lawyer. I think Trump moves to whatever defense he can come up with. He's saying he knew it was going on but it wasn't illegal. That's not going to work. He has to settle in on a story. I assume his lawyers are advising him that. At this point he's effectively admitting he did it. He's saying he got bad advice but that's not going to wash in this one. As Chris said, he set up a complicated scheme to hide this money supposedly from Melania. I would think there's a much simpler way to do it. The fact they went through all this effort tends to show they knew what they were doing was illegal and they were trying to hide it. He's too much involved in these things and the fact is Cohen says and AMI says that everybody knew this was the purpose.

CILLIZZA: At federal prosecutors last week in the Cohen sentencing document said we believe that Donald Trump directed and coordinated this. That is not -- I always tell people, you don't have to bring Michael Cohen. But the southern district of New York is putting their reputation on the line, they're saying we believe this independent or informed by but in addition to what Cohen has said.

BALDWIN: Chris and Larry, we could keep going but I got Solomon waiting in the wings and I got to get to Solomon as well as. Michael Cohen is now the fourth person to be sentenced to prison in the investigation into the meddling of Russia into the Presidential election. And as that list gets longer and longer and the names reached even deeper into President Trump's inner circle, the questions about what lies ahead for the President, they are growing. Will he be impeached? Can a sitting President be indicted?

The Democrat who will soon take the reins as the chairman of the House intelligence committee just made news saying a long-standing Justice Department view on that topic actually needs to be reconsidered. Watch this.


REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), LIKELY INCOMING CHAIR, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: I think the Justice Department needs to reexamine that OLC opinion, office of legal counsel opinion, that you cannot indict a sitting President.

[14:10:00] 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. 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. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: Solomon, welcome back. All these conversations about indicting a sitting President and this notion that that simply cannot be, I read that you say that's actually ridiculous. Tell me why.

SOLOMON WISENBERG, FORMER WHITEWATER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: I just -- to me I've never bought the argument that a sitting President can't be indicted. It's not written in the constitution. To me it doesn't flow inexorably from the constitution. However, the congressman is nuts if he thinks D.O.J. is going to change its policy during this administration. By the way, the policy that a sitting President can't be indicted is overwhelmingly mainstream -- the mainstream consensus of constitutional scholars. It was a position of both Democratic and Republican justice departments, so it's not going to change. Also, he has to have committed an actual criminal offense to be indicted. And if I could just say a concept that was glaringly absent from the last conversation you had is it doesn't matter what Michael Cohen in and of himself pled to. For the President to be guilty of a federal criminal campaign finance violation, he has to know that he is violating the law. Now, maybe they can prove that. Some of the stuff the southern district has come up with looks very, very damaging to him but that is the discontinues, Brooke. It's the President who has to know he's violating federal campaign finance law. That hasn't been established yet.

BALDWIN: Also, part of these conversations, we've talked about if Trump does get reelected, Solomon that, could be his, quote unquote, get out of jail free card in the sense that the statute of limitations may be up. But you say that may not necessarily be the case.

WISENBERG: I haven't heard anybody talk about this --

BALDWIN: Let's talk about this.

WISENBERG: The statute of limitations doesn't save him because it's within five years. But let's say that he gets re-elected. They could indict him under seal like they do to somebody who is overseas when they don't want that person to know and they want to lure him back into the United States or like they do in domestic cases all the time if they think somebody is going to flee. They could indict him under seal. That stops the statute of limitations from running and keep it under seal and see what happens. I'm not positive about that but it strikes me that that could be a method. But really if the evidence is that strong, Brooke, against him, we are going to move to very serious impeachment proceedings before too long. And that's really the case is how strong is the actual evidence. This is not Russian collusion, it's a campaign finance violation and a relatively insignificant one about paying off two mistresses, two people he had an affair with. And the question is -- one of the questions is that -- is that an impeachable offense.

BALDWIN: Back on your point about Trump's mindset, does the audiotape that we've heard of Michael Cohen and Donald Trump discussing the payment, does that -- when you talk about the President knowingly being aware of committing a criminal offense, would that show intent? You know the audio I'm referring to?

WISENBERG: I do. It certainly shows that he is going to great lengths to hide something. And you know, one of your guests that talked about why lie about it and that's something prosecutors use all the time in criminal cases. If he wasn't doing anything wrong, why did he lie about it? But it's a signal feature of the Trump administration and all of his people that they lie all time whether they need to or not. They get asked a question and they think they did something that was wrong and so they lie about it. It's just nuts. But, yes, it's a very good question. Why go to all that trouble if you don't know you're doing something that is very, very sneaky? But still that doesn't establish that he knew he was violating a federal regulation. Even if he knows --

BALDWIN: How do they establish that, Solomon?

[14:15:00] WISENBERG: Somebody tells them. We've got to do it this way because federal election way says we have to do it this way. Keep in mind the real crime here for him in terms of potential crime in terms of the federal election law is the reporting violation. President Trump can pay off as many mistresses he wants to as long as the campaign reports it. So, did the campaign report it? And what were the discussions about that? You can know you're doing something to help your campaign and still not necessarily know that you're violating federal election law. So, it is not even at this time a cake walk, but the governor -- it sure doesn't look good for the President. The government is gathering a lot of information. I do think it's very important in that American plea agreement or immunity agreement that the first conversation -- the first conversation they had, Pecker and Cohen and the unidentified campaign official, it was way back in 2015. And the conversation was let's play catch and kill during the campaign. This is about the campaign.

BALDWIN: The point you're making dovetails perfectly into my next conversation so I thank you for that. Solomon, as always, we appreciate having you on, Solomon Wisenberg. And David Pecker owns the "National Enquirer." the news in the last 24 hours is they have flipped on the President over these hush money payments. The question is what other secrets could lie in their vault? And the tit for tat between China and Canada just escalated again as justice sources tell CNN the President crossed a line with his comment. And what will life be like for Michael Cohen behind bars? You will hear from someone who knows this prison, which has been called one of America cushiest, if in fact he ends up going there. We'll be right back.


BALDWIN: We're back, you're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin. President Trump in this Fox interview denies he paid hush money just before the election to the "National Enquirer" to silence a former Playboy model's claims that she had an affair with Trump.


TRUMP: I don't think we made a payment.


BALDWIN: Long-time Trump ally and the publisher of the "National Enquirer" would disagree. David Pecker decided to cooperate with regards to Trump and is talking to the feds. Pecker isn't just any Trump ally, he was a close, personal friend for years who used his American media incorporated tabloids to negatively portray Hillary Clinton. Sarah Ellison is a staff writer with "The Washington Post." she wrote all about this. The headline to your piece is the whole -- after lying about it, AMI is finally fessing up saying, yup, we paid this hush money to prevent these stories of these women to get out right before the election. Tell me more about that.

SARAH ELLISON, STAFF WRITER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": So, the big news yesterday obviously was this cooperation agreement and this immunity deal and it is very significant for President Trump for a variety of reasons. One is because they can corroborate things that Michael Cohen is saying and he wasn't a great witness but it also just is shocking that Pecker as well, who is one of Trump's closest confidantes has flipped in this way. It really does shine a light on this practice you've alluded to and we've written about --

BALDWIN: Catch and kill.

ELLISON: It's not just catch and kill. It's also all of the different covers that attack Hillary Clinton or Ted Cruz.

BALDWIN: Let's show them. Or in the reverse -- we put together this whole collage of how the "National Enquirer" covered all of what you're talking about, Trump and his opponents. Remind us how they portrayed him specifically as he was running for President.

ELLISON: Well, I mean, Trump was portrayed glowingly and as a wonderful leader and as somebody who was being unfairly attacked but was always very strong. And then really what you see and the person who gets the most is Hillary Clinton and there are these sort of almost laughable covers where she has six months to live and she looks, you know, as close to a zombie as you can possibly imagine.

BALDWIN: Look this one.

ELLISON: And she also has sort of every known ailment under the sun at one point. And --

BALDWIN: Ridiculous.

ELLISON: When we were reporting earlier, it's one of those things you say originally what the "National Enquirer" was saying is we supported Donald Trump, this is the first Presidential candidate we have endorsed I think in history, I don't think you "National Enquirer" endorsed a candidate in the past. This is our editorial judgment, we're allowed to make these decisions. Newspapers endorsed candidates all of the time. We can decide we don't like Hillary Clinton and we're going to write about her in this way and write about Donald Trump in that way. That's what they were saying consistently. And now this gives light to that in a major way. [14:25:00] BALDWIN: Pecker, the big boss, long-time buddy with Donald

Trump, all the trips to Mar-a-Lago, the fact that years ago he was nudging Trump to run for President or created that. Should Trump run. Tell us more about the relationship, which I think to your point a second ago speaks volumes as to why it's so significant that AMI is now cooperating.

ELLISON: Well, I think this is one of the things where David Pecker could be on an ongoing basis beneficial and helpful to the SDNY. They have had -- it seems to me they do have a friendship. People close to Pecker and to Donald Trump have both described it to me as more transactional. So, David Pecker, they met back when David Pecker was the head -- was the CEO of a magazine publisher in the U.S. or the U.S. arm that much magazine publisher. He launched "Trump Style," which was a sort of dedicated magazine that would be distributed in Trump hotels so they both got something out of that from a business perspective. David Pecker would do events at Mar-a-Lago. Donald Trump spoke about Pecker when he received an honorary doctorate at pace university. They do these things for each other. I don't think they spent a tremendous amount of time just sort of on the porch at Mar-a-Lago hanging out and having -- not a beer because Donald Trump doesn't drink but the point is, they have been in close contact for a long, long, long time. So, I do think he's useful. The way it was described to me by former staffers at AMI was that Pecker really understands on an institutional level how Michael Cohen and Donald Trump operated, particularly in this sphere. And it's one that, you know, you talked about on your previous segment but it's really significant to say that in august 2015 they sat down and said not only will we catch and kill stories that could hurt your chances, but we'll let you know about anything that might be coming. We'll sort of be your in-house research arm, oppo research.

BALDWIN: And what else might they have, all these questions I'm sure prosecutors are getting into. That's for another day. Sarah Ellison with "The Washington Post," I appreciate it very much. Thank you very much. President Trump is being accused of setting a terrible precedent, suggesting using this Chinese executive in Canada as a bargaining chip and now he's catching heat for crossing this red line.