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Cohen: Trump Knew It Was Wrong to Make Hush Payments; Source: Trump Was in Room for Hush Money Meeting in 2015; Cohen Says Trump Is Still Lying About His Actions; John Dean: Trump Investigations Worse than Watergate; Trump Considering Chris Christie for Chief of Staff. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired December 14, 2018 - 11:00   ET



[11:00:00] UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We have continued to innovate and been the leader in the market. So thinking we have peaked early is honestly not something that's crossed my mind.



Have you done your Christmas shopping, my friend?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: I am just starting. How many days to go? We'll get there.

HARLOW: Good luck.

Thank you all for being with us. I'm Poppy Harlow, in New York.

SCIUTTO: I'm Jim Sciutto.

"AT THIS HOUR" with Kate Bolduan starts right now.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan.

Michael Cohen is going to prison, but he is not going quietly. This morning, we're hearing from the president's former personal attorney for the first time since being slapped with a three-year prison sentence. Cohen, whose last job title you'll remember is executive vice president of the Trump Organization, he says Donald Trump directed him to make the hush money payments to women over alleged affairs. Trump, he also says, Trump knew it was wrong, and that Trump did it to help his campaign.

Here he is with ABC's George Stephanopoulos.


MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER TRUMP ATTORNEY: I will not be the villain of his story.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS ANCHOR: He's saying very clearly that he never directed you to do anything wrong. Is that true?

COHEN: I don't think there's anybody that believes that. First of all, nothing at the Trump Organization was ever done unless it was run through Mr. Trump. He directed me, as I said in my allocution, and I said as well in the plea. He directed me to make the payments. He directed me to become involved in these matters, including the one with McDougal, which was really between him and David Pecker, and then David Pecker's counsel. I just reviewed the documents in order to protect him. I gave loyalty to someone who truthfully does not deserve loyalty.

STEPHANOPOULOS: He was trying to hide what you were doing, correct?

COHEN: Correct.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And he knew it was wrong?

COHEN: Of course.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And he was doing that to help his election?

COHEN: You have to remember at what point in time that this matter came about. Two weeks or so before the election, post-the Billy Bush comments. So, yes, he was very concerned about how this would affect the election.

STEPHANOPOULOS: To help his campaign?

COHEN: To help him and the campaign.


BOLDUAN: Now, honestly, that's not only jarring to hear from a man who once said he would take a bullet for Donald Trump, but it's also directly contradicting what the president says. Here's President Trump just yesterday.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Let me tell you, 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's a lawyer. He represents a client. I never directed him to do anything incorrect or wrong. And he understands that.


BOLDUAN: Well, let's get to what we understand right now.

CNN crime and justice reporter, Shimon Prokupecz, is joining me now.

Shimon, what else is Michael Cohen saying?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME & JUSTICE REPORTER: I think when you look at everything that Michael Cohen has said this morning, he basically paints a picture where he explains how for 10 years he's been lying for the president, working for Donald Trump, 10 years, and spent those 10 years lying for him. He is saying how he followed a bad path while working for Donald Trump. And the other thing is when we start looking at what Michael Cohen is saying as it relates to the special counsel's investigation, the Russia investigation, it's important there, too, because he's telling us that the special counsel, when he met with them, and interviews with them that they possessed a lot of information. That they knew a lot of what was going on. And that he was -- his information was backed up. The information that he has been providing to the special counsel was backed up, was corroborated with other information that they already possessed. That's an important point because we have yet to learn everything in the special counsel's investigation.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely right.

Shimon, CNN is also learning more about President Trump's involvement, then Candidate-Trump's involvement in those payments. What are you learning?

PROKUPECZ: That has to do with a meeting that the president was in. He was in the room during a meeting, according to sources we have spoken to, where there was a conversation about payments to one of the women. And that was in a meeting with David Pecker, of course, from the "National Enquirer," where they talked about how they were going to go about making these payments, making sure that these payments never surfaced, kind of hide the way the payments were being made. There -- our sources saying that Michael Cohen along with David Pecker and the president were in the room talking about this.

BOLDUAN: Great to see you, Shimon. Thank you so much.

Joining me now is Paul Callan, CNN legal analyst and criminal defense attorney, and Elie Honig, CNN legal analyst and former federal prosecutor with the southern district of New York.

A lot to get through now that we have heard from Michael Cohen.

Elie, if the prosecutors can place Donald Trump in the room with Cohen, with David Pecker after he's announced his candidacy for president, from conversations about shielding the president from damaging stories, what does that mean?

[11:05:14] ELIE HONIG, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: So the big legal question here is, is it a campaign contribution or not? We have seen the denials from the president, Rudy Giuliani saying it's not a contribution. What that means is what was the purpose of the payment? Was it intended to silence these women so they don't hurt then- Candidate Trump's electorate chances or intended to shield his family from embarrassment or humiliation? If the president is in the room when the conversations are happening, and given the timing, just weeks before the election, when the affairs themselves were about a decade old, that's important evidence that suggests, yes, it is a campaign contribution. If that's the conclusion, it's way over the legal limit and it's not disclosed. Then you have a crime. BOLDUAN: When it comes to Donald Trump's word versus now Michael Cohen's word and AMI's word, this seems to be a really clear case of the president doesn't have his story straight. I say that because I know that maybe everyone has heard these sound bites, these quotes, these statements from the president before, but I want to play them again because I think it's really important to hear what the president has said when asked about the hush money payments past and now present. Listen.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Did you know about the $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels?

TRUMP: No. No.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Why did Michael Cohen pay it?

TRUMP: You would have to ask Michael Cohen. Michael is my attorney, and you'll have to ask Michael Cohen.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Do you know where he got the money to make the payment?

TRUMP: I don't know.

Later on, I knew. Later on. But you have to understand, what he did -- and they weren't taken out of campaign finance. That's a big thing, a much bigger thing. Did they come out of the campaign? They didn't come out of the campaign.

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.


BOLDUAN: I mean, am I wrong to think he does not have his story straight?

PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: No. He doesn't have his story straight, or maybe he does, but he's trying to lie about it. And when you tell a lie, it's hard to be consistent. It's easy when you tell the truth because it's always the same story. The president is always moving with each question and changing his answers a little bit.

BOLDUAN: It's a very simple question that he's been asked consistently.

CALLAN: An extraordinarily simple question. I have to tell you, the thing that surprised me the most about this "three men in a room thing" that we have heard about, putting David Pecker, the publisher of the "National Enquirer," in the room, is that Pecker got full immunity from Mueller. Why does Pecker get full immunity when Cohen has to plead guilty and everybody else has pleaded guilty? What it suggests to me is prosecutors in the southern district think there's a criminal case against the president. And the chief witness in that case may very well be David Pecker. And I'll add one other thing. If they even wanted to indict the president now, they could have done so and returned a sealed indictment. In fact, that's something they may have to do because the statute of limitations will run shortly after the end of the president's first term in office. So this is shaping up to be a very, very important issue. David Pecker being in that room and the fact that he was given complete immunity.

BOLDUAN: When it comes to Michael Cohen and his involvement -- we talked about this -- one question is why believe Michael Cohen now, as he's speaking out, if he's admitted he's lied in the past, and he's clearly lied in the past? Here's what Michael Cohen says about that.


STEPHANOPOULOS: People watching are going to be thinking, but wait a second, he lied for so long, why should we believe him now? What's the answer?

COHEN: What do you mean lied? Lied about what? At the Trump Organization, it's a microcosm of even just the New York real estate market. What did we lie about? It's New York real estate. Yes, it's the greatest product ever created. Is that a lie?

STEPHANOPOULOS: You pleaded guilty to lying to Congress.


STEPHANOPOULOS: So why should we believe you now?

COHEN: Because the special counsel stated emphatically that the information that I gave to them was credible and helpful. There's a substantial amount of information that they possess that corroborates the fact that I am telling the truth.


BOLDUAN: What do you think of that?

HONIG: This is the trick that every prosecutor faces with every cooperating witness. cooperating witnesses inherently are shady people. They have been involved in crimes, crimes, otherwise, they wouldn't be cooperating witnesses --


BOLDUAN: You would have something on them, yes.

HONIG: You have to put these people in front of a jury or whatever your fact-finding. You have to convince them, yes, they have done what they have done in the past, now their incentive is to tell the truth. Michael Cohen, I'm sure as I have dealt with him, he's particularly difficult because of just how slippery he is. You could even see it in the interview. He's trying to minimize his conduct. Well, all I did was fill in some blanks on some paperwork. The only effective cooperators are those who fully embrace what they have done and where they are now. He has to be able to say sure, was I in league with Trump, was I step in step with him for 10 years? Yes. I did everything he wanted. I knew what I was doing. It was bad. I made plenty of money, had a great run. Now it's all changed. Now I have come clean, tell the truth, and it comes down to corroboration in the end. You can't put someone like Michael Cohen on the stand and say jury, believe him. You have to pack it up with hard evidence. That gets into David Pecker, into the documents, the tapes, the AMI stipulation from the other day.

[11:10:49] BOLDUAN: There's much more, and Michael Cohen says even more. We'll more into that.

Great to see you guys. Thank you. Thank you very much.

Much more on Michael Cohen's comments ahead, and additional things he said, especially about Russia.

Plus, President Trump now says he has a list of five contenders to replace outgoing chief of staff, John Kelly. Could a former presidential rival be on that list now? Stay with us.



[11:15:31] STEPHANOPOULOS: The special counsel did say you were doing your best to tell the truth, about everything related to their investigation, everything related to Russia. Do you think President Trump is telling the truth about that?



BOLDUAN: No. That's Michael Cohen speaking for the first time after being sentenced to three years behind bars for among other things making illegal hush money payments to two women to cover up alleged affairs with Donald Trump. Cohen is making clear he's not done speaking to the special counsel.

Joining me is CNN national security commentator, Mike Rogers, a former Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, and CNN's chief political correspondent, Dana Bash.

Dana, Michael Cohen saying the president is not telling the truth, lying about Russia. He does not elaborate beyond that. Where do you even begin to guess exactly what that could mean?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, it could mean anything. Because remember, Michael Cohen has recordings. He has, you know, e-mails. He has records. He kept everything. For what reason, we don't know. Maybe bribery. You know, for posterity, for his grandkids. We don't know what the origination of that decision was, but what we do know is that the special counsel and the SDNY, the feds, have it all. So there could be information that he has dealing with Russia. Obviously, the most clear example is what then candidate, then businessman Donald Trump was trying to do vis-a- vis Trump Tower Moscow, because Michael Cohen was involved in that, and maybe there are other layers around that that we just don't know questions to ask about. And so look, I will tell you that people I have talked to this morning who know Michael Cohen, who worked with Cohen in the Trump orbit and are still fans of the president but not blindly so, say that they just don't think he's credible. The problem that those critics of Michael Cohen have is exactly what he said, is that the special counsel has evidence to back up whatever it is that he says he's got on the president.


And, Congressman, I mean, Cohen admitted to lying to the House Intelligence Committee. The committee you once chaired. He now says you should trust him because, as Dana is laying out, his information is credible. The information he's given them is substantial. Do you -- I guess you don't need to trust him. Do you see him as credible?

MIKE ROGERS, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY COMMENTATOR: Well, listen, let me put my FBI hat on for a minute. What they used Cohen for is to corroborate other information. Remember, the guy that hasn't been talked about who has been cooperating I think since July is Weiselberg, who is the chief financial officer to the Trump Organization. He's been cooperating with the special counsel since then. What we have now, and what I found really interesting in Cohen's sentencing, and I think the campaign finance issue is a side show to where I think the special counsel is going.

BASH: I agree.

ROGERS: And what they said -- this is really important -- they said he gave substantial information and corroboration to discreet Russian activities and had contacts with the Trump executive operation. If you think about that, that's a pretty small group of people. So that tells me that their focus and his focus was on that Russia meeting for Trump Tower in Moscow. It means that Weiselberg will be able to confirm all of the financial transactions related to that. And you add on top of that, Flynn, the special counsel has been jumping up and down about the level of cooperation. Remember, he had his own Russian ties going in '15 and '16. You start adding that together. I think that's the pot that's getting ready to boil over. What that means for the president I'm not sure, but I think it's pretty serious.

BOLDUAN: We could learn more about Michael Flynn later today as the prosecutors will be responding in their sentencing filing. Who knows what could come out or very little considering what we have seen depending on the day.

I want to play, Dana, what Michael Cohen says about who he says is the liar here in all of this.


COHEN: He knows the truth. I know the truth. Others know the truth. And here's the truth. The people of the United States of America, the people of the world, don't believe what he's saying. The man doesn't tell the truth. And it's sad that I should take responsibility for his dirty deeds.


[11:20:08] BOLDUAN: Here's the thing about it, as we have been talking about. It's not just Michael Cohen. It's Michael Cohen now and AMI that are corroborating, at least part of the conversation that we're having. What do people do with this?

BASH: You know, I think, unfortunately, we live in a world where we want to know what's happening right away. This special counsel investigation and the SDNY investigation, they have been going on for a while, but I don't think we're going to know until it's done what exactly all of this means. And what we have now are these little threads, these little clues. And I think you're right that the AMI situation, the fact that David Pecker, who runs it, which, of course, is the parent company of "National Enquirer," is also cooperating with federal investigators, is really key. I also think that because we don't know where this investigation is going to go, but we do know from our perch here in Washington what the political ramifications are, we have to also keep in mind what we're talking about here is now as we end this week, is a president who is under investigation from and in and around all fronts. Right? You have, we're talking about his business, which is what he called a red line.


BOLDUAN: As you're saying it, Dana, I want to throw that up, please.


BOLDUAN: I saw this from John Dean, former Nixon White House counsel. This is exactly what you're getting to. This is what he tweeted out: "Trump's campaign, Trump's transition, Trump's inauguration, Trump's presidency, plus Trump and family all are now under state and federal criminal and civil investigations."

He says this is more damning that Watergate. That does not paint a pretty picture.

BASH: No, and remember, for John Dean to say this is more damning that Watergate, I mean, that's pretty remarkable. For those youngsters who are watching and don't know who John Dean is, use the Google because you'll know why that is an incredible statement for somebody like him. But again, even in the short term, just look at the political ramifications, because you have a president who is about to enter his second half of his first term, who has all eyes and his mind on that, on how he's going to gear up for that. How he's going to win a second term. And then he's got the short-term question of any political capital that he might have to rely on.


BASH: And whether that capital is going to chip away because of the fact that he is under investigation on so many fronts.

BOLDUAN: Congressman, you had your FBI hat on. Can you put your political hat on now again? I want to ask you, is what Dana's laying out, what we're talking about, when you have Republicans at least in the past week, Orrin Hatch when it comes to the president being directly implicated, I don't care. Others saying they don't trust Michael Cohen. You lay out that list of what's under investigation. How can or how should Republicans be responding to this now? Things are changing.

ROGERS: It is. But it's also not. If you look at the independent voters, the people who we're talking about impeachment has dropped 12 points. I think it's overdone. Where Democrats risk losing the American public is this notion they're already talking about impeachment and investigations and going after this. I even heard one member on this network say we're going to give him a fair hearing, probably fairer than he deserves. Which that's a sentiment that good luck, you're not going to get any fairness in any of this. I think you can risk losing a big chunk of the American population. Remember, he won in unique states. Michigan, Pennsylvania, places like that, Ohio. They actually are doing pretty well under his economic policies. You wouldn't know it because he never talks about it because he's too busy tweeting why he doesn't like somebody or he has some pejorative statement about someone. That part is settling pretty well to actual people who are working for a living. I think Republicans need to -- they haven't had any soul searching at all since the election. They need to do that. But I think Democrats can give them a little breathing room the way they're coming out of the chutes here saying we're going to get him. We're going to have a fair hearing and a public hanging. I don't think it's helpful.

BOLDUAN: I think it would do everyone a service to just be careful. Wait to see what the special counsel says. And also, take very seriously when you have prosecutors saying what they're saying in court when it comes to Michael Cohen and everything related to that as well. Take it seriously. Very seriously.

Great to see you guys. Thank you.

BASH: Thanks, Kate.

ROGERS: Thank you.

[11:25:48] Thanks so much.

Republican primary rival-turned Trump campaign surrogate, Chris Christie, summoned to the White House to meet with Trump about the chief of staff position. Why that appointment might be a touch bit awkward for Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner.


BOLDUAN: The latest episode in the ongoing made-for-TV movie titled "who wants to be the president's chief of staff," Chris Christie comes to town. The former New Jersey governor, turned Trump rival, turned Trump campaign surrogate, and even turned at one point into the head of the Trump transition, that same Chris Christie has met with the president more than once to talk about taking over for John Kelly to run the West Wing. What does the president have to say?