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Michael Cohen Breaks Silence After Sentencing; Michael Cohen: Trump not Telling the Truth in Relation to Russia Probe; Trump Inaugural Committee Under Criminal Investigation; Prosecutors Respond Today to Flynn's Request for No Jail Time; Trump Claims Flynn May have Been "Scared" into Making Up a Story; Senate Rebukes Trump, Condemns Saudi Arabia Over Khashoggi. Aired 9-9:30

Aired December 14, 2018 - 09:00   ET


[09:00:01] BERMAN: I have no doubt that he's going to be an outstanding officer going forward.

That does it for us today.

CAMEROTA: It sure does. Have a great weekend.

BERMAN: Yes. Thanks so much. There's a lot of news this morning. "CNN NEWSROOM" with Poppy Harlow and Jim Sciutto now.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Very good Friday morning to you. I'm Jim Sciutto in Washington.

Poppy, big news day on the investigation of this president.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Yes. Another big news Friday. Good morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow in New York. We are so glad you're with us.

The last time we heard from Michael Cohen, he was coughing to his crimes in federal court and hoping to stay out of prison. That was two days ago, by the way. And I know it seems a lot longer than that. Well, this morning the hopes are gone, but Cohen isn't. Not yet. And he still has a lot to say, Jim.

SCIUTTO: In an interview with ABC News' George Stephanopoulos, President Trump's former lawyer and former executive vice president of the Trump Organization says not only did the president know about hush money payments to alleged mistresses during the campaign, he knew they were wrong.

Want to play those comments for you beginning with Cohen's denial of a charge the president has now made twice in the last 24 hours. That Cohen pleaded guilty in a campaign finance violation solely to embarrass the president.


MICHAEL COHEN, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S FORMER LAWYER: First of all, it's absolutely not true. I did not do it to embarrass the president. He knows the truth. I know the truth. Many people know the truth. Under no circumstances do I want to embarrass the president of the United States of America. The truth is I told the truth. I took responsibility for my actions. And instead of him taking responsibility for his actions, what does he do? He attacks my family. And after yesterday, again, being before the court and taking the responsibility and receiving a sentence of 36 months, the only thing he can do is to tweet about my family?

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS HOST: He said in the tweets, he repeated in an interview later on, that basically he says, his claim, you are lying about him to protect your wife and to protect your father.

COHEN: Inaccurate. He knows the truth. I know the truth. Others know the truth. And here is the truth. The people of the United States of America, 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.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You lied for him for a long time.

COHEN: More than 10 years.


COHEN: Out of loyalty. Out of loyalty to him. I followed a bad path, and hence how we started this conversation. I have my freedom, and I will not be the villain, as I told you once before. I will not be the villain of his story.

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

COHEN: I don't think there is 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 it 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.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So what do you say to people and, you know, there are a lot of people who are watching who are going to be thinking, but wait a second, he lied for so long. Why should we believe him now? What's the answer to that?

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 do we lie about? It's New York real estate. Yes, it's the greatest product ever created. Is that a lie?

STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, but 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 is a substantial amount of information that they possess that corroborates the fact that I am telling the truth.


[09:05:07] SCIUTTO: That statement right there should concern the president.


SCIUTTO: He says that it's not just his word.

HARLOW: Right.

SCIUTTO: That the prosecutors have information, evidence, to back it up. You know, you work for the president for more than 10 years.

We have legal analysts Laura Coates, from "TIME" magazine and CNN political analyst Molly Ball. A lot to digest here.

But, Laura, I want to go to you first as our legal expert here. Show us what -- explain to us what prosecutors need to prove to show that a crime was committed violating campaign finance law because you need intent to influence the election. Part of that is timing, proximity to the election, but also the cover-up is important, is it not, because an attempt to conceal the payments. Explain in layman's terms how you make a case here.

LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, there's two things. One, you have campaign finance disclosure laws, so you have the cover-up issue being an issue. The thing about it is, you can make contributions to a campaign. It can be in kind, it can be your time, it can be actual money that's transferring hands. But there is a limit that you have to have. You cannot exceed about a $2,000 limit at that time. If you -- and you have to still disclose it. Everyone knows where the money is coming from, whether or not there is a politician or a candidate who may have marionette strings on their back and who they are beholden to. So you have to actually disclose it.

You as a candidate can contribute to your own campaign. But you have to disclose that as well in your financial reporting documents So what you have here is the idea of, one, a payment obviously in excess of the campaign contribution limit. You have people who are not disclosing it so that there is the American people and others are left wondering where the money has come from, not knowing if it had even been spent.

And finally you have the idea of what was the purpose of why you did it? Was it because you were trying to protect a purely personal interest like, for example, his wife or was there even a dual purpose where you intended to influence a campaign and shield from the American people what it had a right to know. All of these are part of what the investigation does. The amount, when it was disclosed, the purpose of the payment and of course finally what you were doing when you tried to lie and conceal it.


COATES: What was your motivation there? You have all of these things that go into play. And frankly, you've got a lot of evidence that support all of those things happened to violate campaign finance laws.

SCIUTTO: Poppy, that's a pretty convincing case.


SCIUTTO: When you hear from -- she ticks down the points. Over the money limit, clearly. $2700, this is more than $100,000.


SCIUTTO: They did not disclose it. Clearly with intent to hide it. And the purpose, the proximity, couple of weeks to the campaign, I mean, that's the case the prosecutors are making here.

HARLOW: Right. So talking about a campaign finance violation case. But, but remember what he said when Stephanopoulos asked him, Molly. Why should we believe you know? You lied to Congress. There's a substantial amount of information that possesses -- they possess. Prosecutors that corroborates the fact that I'm telling the truth.

We know about the audio recording because we've all heard it of the president talking with Michael Cohen about paying off, you know, AMI, Karen McDougal, et cetera just before the election. But just to remind everyone, here is that conversation on tape between the president and Michael Cohen.


COHEN: And I spoken to Allen Weisselberg about how to set the whole thing up with funding -- DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: So what are we going to


COHEN: Yes. And all the stuff.


HARLOW: Coupling, Molly, that tape together with what Michael Cohen said, where does that leave the president this morning?

MOLLY BALL, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, we don't quite know because the case that has been brought so far is the case obviously against Cohen, not anything against the president. So we don't -- we haven't seen whatever evidence there may be to that end. You know, and as Laura was saying the intent here is going to be crucial because a lot of what the president and his allies have been saying is that this was purely personal, that they have admitted the payment was made, admitted that there was an attempt to conceal this affair, but saying that it was only in order to protect his personal life, which in the very similar case involving presidential candidate John Edwards and his payments to make a mistress disappear, that's what ended up convincing the jury that he wasn't guilty of a campaign finance violation was the idea that he actually was just trying to hide this from his wife.

HARLOW: Except for the fact that, Molly, in that tape before the part that we played the president says in two weeks, in two weeks, it's fine.


BALL: That's right. And so that's -- and so this is the kind of corroborating evidence that Cohen is alluding to.


BALL: And if it is true that all of that corroborating evidence exists, if its -- if he's on a contemporaneous tape recording saying what his intention is, then it's not going to be very clear, but that evidence hasn't all been presented yet.


COATES: And you know --

[09:10:06] SCIUTTO: But, Laura, did this -- so I was just going to say, you have the president going after Michael Cohen, calling him a liar here, right, and he has a record of lying. It's a fair question. But the fact is, there is a second witness to this, is there not, that in the person of AMI the parent company of "National Enquirer" because they are, Laura, substantiating this idea that the payment was intended to influence the election. Should we look at that from the outside as a second witness, in effect?

COATES: Of course we should. And here's why it's very key and why it's distinct from the John Edwards case. Well, at that time the person who was the mistress, Rielle Hunter, she was currently the mistress of John Edwards. It wasn't something that happened five or 10 years before. It was trying to be covered up close in time. The jury took that into consideration, about the notion that he was married to Elizabeth Edwards at the time and she was -- I believe they knew that she was ill at that moment in time as well.

So what you had there is a different discussion. Also, you didn't have the David Pecker of AMI who came in to say, well, I have immunity and this is part of a larger package of things that we've been doing over time. You know, the catch and kill stories. Not just about Karen McDougal or say a Stormy Daniels. But also about publishing headlines that were targeting his political rivals.

It was a collected effort. And so when you have the idea of -- not only Michael Cohen and Donald Trump who we hear on an audio recording talking about this very issue. And let's be frank, you know, both of them don't really win the credibility contest, but David Pecker comes in as somebody who potentially is an eyewitness and ear witness to the conversation and can let people understand what was the intent, what was known, when was it known and the motivation.

HARLOW: Right. Well, and let's not forget, and stick around, you're coming back on the other side of the break, but let's not forget that we now know from CNN's reporting overnight that the president was in the room for a conversation about catch and kill strategy to squash stories embarrassing to the president in August of 2015 with David Pecker. And how much that moves the ball. We'll see.

Stay with us, everyone. You're going to hear more of this interview with Michael Cohen right ahead. How does it all end for President Trump? Michael Cohen has an answer for that after this break.

Plus, a stunning rebuke of the administration. Senators on both sides of the aisle condemn Saudi Arabia over the Yemen war and the murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

SCIUTTO: And this alarming story. A 7-year-old migrant girl has died in the custody of the U.S. Border Patrol. What happened?


[09:15:00] POPPY HARLOW, CO-HOST, NEWSROOM: This morning, President Trump's lawyer, former long time fixer Michael Cohen says the president is not telling the truth about pretty much anything, but particularly when it comes to the Russia investigation.

Here is more of George Stephanopoulos' exclusive interview with Michael Cohen. Watch this.


MICHAEL COHEN, LAWYER: I will tell you that the gentleman that is sitting now in the Oval Office, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, is not the Donald Trump that I remember from the Trump Tower.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, TELEVISION JOURNALIST: How so? COHEN: He's a very -- he's a very different individual.

STEPHANOPOULOS: What's happened to him?

COHEN: I think the pressure of the job is much more than what he thought it was going to be. It's not like the Trump Organization where he would bark out orders and people would blindly follow what he wanted done. There is a system here, he doesn't understand the system.

And it's sad because the country has never been more divisive, and one of the hopes that I have out of the punishment that I've received as well as the cooperation that I have given, I will be remembered in history as helping to bring this country back together.

STEPHANOPOULOS: The special counsel did say that 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?


STEPHANOPOULOS: That's a big statement. If he was sitting in this chair right now, what would you say to him?

COHEN: Lay off Twitter, run the country the way that we all thought that you would. Be able to take the Democrats, Republicans, bring them together and bring the country together instead of dividing the country.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Do you think he has ears to hear that?

COHEN: I don't know. I don't think so.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Was yesterday the hardest day of your life or is that gone too far?

COHEN: It's an understatement.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Yet, you feel you've turned a corner.

COHEN: I know I have.

STEPHANOPOULOS: How does this end for Donald Trump?

COHEN: You know, that sort of gets into the whole investigation right now between, you know, the special counsel's office, the Attorney General's office. You also have the Southern District of New York, I don't want to jeopardize any of their investigations.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And you're still cooperating?

COHEN: If they want me, I'm here and I'm willing to answer whatever additional questions that they may have for me.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Right, so you're saying that there are certain areas that you can't get into because you're still cooperating with them?

COHEN: Correct, and out of respect for process.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Why do you think President Trump is lashing out against you in such a personal way daily almost now, calling you weak, calling you a liar? Is he afraid?

COHEN: It seems like it. That's what he does. That's what he does.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Are you afraid of him?

COHEN: It's never good to be on the wrong side of the president of the United States of America. But somehow or another, this task has now fallen on to my shoulders, and as I also stated, that I will spend the rest of my life in order to fix the mistake that I made.

STEPHANOPOULOS: How are you going to do that?

COHEN: I don't know. One day at a time.


HARLOW: Wow, what --


HARLOW: Telling out here, right?

SCIUTTO: Contrite Michael Cohen --

HARLOW: Yes --

SCIUTTO: There, no question.

[09:20:00] HARLOW: Yes, saying he doesn't want to be, Jim, the villain and refuses to be the villain in this story, but, look, he participated in these lies for years for, you know --

SCIUTTO: He did --

HARLOW: For a very long time --

SCIUTTO: No question. You know, one thing that stood out to me there is his saying, and this gets to the core of it, that the president is not being truthful about --

HARLOW: Right --

SCIUTTO: Russia and the investigation. And I pair that up with a statement in the courtroom from the special counsel's office during his sentencing who said, "Michael Cohen -- quote, has provided our office with credible --

HARLOW: Right --

SCIUTTO: And reliable information about core Russia-related issues under investigation. Because it of course --

HARLOW: Yes --

SCIUTTO: The president, his supporters have said, oh, this is purely a personal issue, you know, it's just about women, et cetera. Fact is he's cooperating on the central premise of the special counsel --

HARLOW: Yes --

SCIUTTO: Investigation --

HARLOW: Yes --

SCIUTTO: And that should be of concern to him. I wonder as we bring Molly Ball and Laura Coates back. I wonder, Laura, on that issue of Russia, Michael Cohen says he's not been truthful, special counsel says he's being cooperative. How much of that concern the president?

LAURA COATES, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR & CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Oh, it should concern him greatly. I mean, this is somebody who has been in the room for a number of key opportunities and meetings. We know that he has been somebody to facilitate and orchestrate different meetings, discussions.

He knows presumably a great deal which is why -- remember, when they raided his office, his hotel room and his home, they got thousands of documents. They have got audio recordings, we only heard a tip of the iceberg of what he has. We know that whatever they have heard has led them to conclude that there are additional investigations including perhaps inaugural committee that needs to be investigated as well.

So you have really a treasure trove of information if you're the prosecutors in this case. But ultimately, Michael Cohen has been up until now according to the SDNY, a confirmer, not a cooperator. And as a confirmer, he is essentially telling them what they already know. Now, if his information and things that were claimed from his office are things that could incentivize them to call him a cooperator and say, now you are trying to -- starting to illuminate issues. Well, that should make particularly Donald Trump and many of the other executives as a part of the Trump Organization --

HARLOW: Right --

COATES: Their knees knock together.


HARLOW: That is really interesting, a confirmer not necessarily a cooperator. He could give them more and potentially get a little bit of a sentence reduction. Not supposed to go to jail until prison -- until March.

COATES: Yes --

HARLOW: We'll see. Molly, let me ask you about the politics of this because we have a brand new Cnn poll on how Americans feel about impeachment proceedings, potentially against the president. And I think it says so, so much. Of course, a lot of it was before sort of the bombshell of Cohen this week.

But look at this, a new Cnn poll, 43 percent of Americans supporting impeaching the president, that is down from where it was in September at 47 percent, 50 percent do not support impeachment, Molly, and look at independents. Among independents, their support for impeachment, we don't have that full screen, but it's fallen 12 percent since September --


HARLOW: Molly --

BALL: Was definitely the number that jumped out at me.

HARLOW: Yes --

BALL: And I think there is two ways of looking at this poll, right? But it really does tell you why Democrats in particular are treading --


BALL: Carefully when it comes to the i-word. On the one hand, 43 percent is a lot --

HARLOW: Sure --

BALL: And I think that if this impeachment gets thought of as a fringe political view, it isn't, it's about as popular as Trump right now. On the other hand --

HARLOW: But 43 percent, Molly, is not a lot when you need two-thirds majority in the Senate, right?

BALL: Well, there's that and there's also the fact that Democrats don't want this to be perceived as a partisan crusade if in fact they do end up going there. They know that if it does look like a partisan thing, that just hardens the Republicans against the Democrats.

And no -- and you don't ever get Republicans, whether it's Republican voters or Republican senators to peel off and join an inquiry. So the Democrats know that oversight is going to be basically the only thing they can do from the House majority once they take over next month.

And they want it to appear as much as possible and to be I think as much as possible an impartial process that puts the facts first and tries to appear to be a true fact finding mission instead of just an attempt to get the president.

HARLOW: Right --

SCIUTTO: You know, it's interesting, Poppy, I spoke to a Democratic lawmaker who made exactly that point, and said the real test is -- HARLOW: Yes --

SCIUTTO: You would need to have Republican support for this.

HARLOW: Yes --

SCIUTTO: You could not do it down party lines -- I mean, that's just the facts --

HARLOW: Right --

SCIUTTO: Of it, that's just the math --

HARLOW: Until there's a Howard Baker --

SCIUTTO: Of impeachment --

HARLOW: Right?

SCIUTTO: Right or --

HARLOW: Yes --

SCIUTTO: You know, several members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, that's a term for --

HARLOW: Sure --

SCIUTTO: For Nixon, something like that. And it's --

HARLOW: Yes --

SCIUTTO: Interesting, and I think Democrats are aware of that politics. Laura Coates, I mean, the other piece here that has emerged in the last 24 hours is an investigation underway of possible illegal foreign payments into Trump's inaugural committee as well as political action committee, a Super PAC during the campaign.

Early stages of that investigation is our reporting. How potentially concerning is that line of inquiry for the president?

COATES: Well, it's very in the sense that it is a notion of paying for play and against anti-corruption laws if you were actually paying to influence policy. It's under the same general umbrella of people who are hijacking democracy.

[09:25:00] And all of these laws, campaign financier form, issues of collusion and the investigation itself, issues of correction and pay for play, all of it is antithetical to our core Democratic principles of being of the people by and for the people of this government.

So all of this falls under that same theme, and that theme really could come back, continuously to haunt the president of the United States. Because if the theme is the high-jacking of democracy or somebody who is not entitled to be there or is trying to undermine and fatally in some instances the American people's ability to decide for themselves who will govern.

Well, it does not --

HARLOW: Yes --

COATES: Annul to him, and finally, you know, the issue of impeachment, I have to just say, one of the reasons I think people are not too happy about impeachment now is because campaign finance law is very complicated to many people. And Robert Mueller's report is door number two.

I think America wants to see what's behind there first.

HARLOW: Good point. All right, so something from Rudy Giuliani, the president -- Molly, his personal attorney to the "New York Times" really striking. So in this long interview to the "New York Times", he says, look, you know, nearly three dozen members of Congress have made similar types of hush money payments to people who have accused him of harassment or tried to embarrass him.

He didn't name a single one of them. But then he said, quote, "if they want to pursue an investigation over impeachment on this" -- meaning they, members of Congress, "and if they do want to vote on an article of impeachment, somewhere between 30 to 40 of them better get a lawyer."

Have we gone from he didn't do it to it's probably not legal to -- if you come after us, we'll come after you.

BALL: And everybody does it, right? I mean, this is in a way typical sort of Rudy bluster. But you have seen the president continually, as you said, move the goal post. Rudy Giuliani continue to move the goal post on what exactly constitutes acceptability and -- but he has said from the beginning, and he told us at "Time Magazine" several months ago, he's very straightforward about what he's doing.

He is trying to poison the jury pool of the American people. He's trying to make the Mueller investigation so unpopular with the public as a whole that it is -- that they agree with the president, that it's a partisan witch-hunt, and therefore that anything that elected leaders in the House and Senate would do to pursue something like impeachment would be seen as illegitimate.

And so he's kept up this crusade, it has been somewhat effective, he has convinced --


BALL: A lot of people that this is merely a political process.

HARLOW: Right. All right, ladies, thank you, a lot of news to cover this morning, have a great weekend.

BALL: Thank you --

COATES: Thank you -- SCIUTTO: Also happening today, federal prosecutors are said to reply

to Michael Flynn's sentencing memo. Could learn a lot more about what the president's national security adviser has told Robert Mueller. Alex Marquardt has been following that story. What are we going to hear today?

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, this is happening in U.S. District Court, and essentially, this is the Mueller team responding to the sentencing memo that Michael Flynn's lawyers put out on Tuesday. Now, remember, Michael Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI last year, and we know that he is part of three ongoing investigations when it comes to the Mueller team.

Of course, one of them is Russia probe, one of them is suspected to be that obstruction of justice case. But frankly, Jim, we don't know too much about the cooperation between the Mueller team and the Flynn team. So what we're expecting to -- the Mueller team to do today is to respond to this memo from the Flynn team that said that Flynn has been cooperating extensively, that he cooperated early on.

As they put it, not grudging or delayed, and they have pointed to his long military service, his career and how contrite he is. And the Mueller team has agreed that he -- that he cooperated, and that he doesn't deserve any jail time. The president was also asked about Michael Flynn just yesterday, so let's take a quick listen to that.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: A respected person and a nice man. And I don't even know what he said about me because you know, maybe they scared him enough that he'll make up a story. But I have a feeling that maybe he didn't. He's a tougher kind of a guy than Cohen.


MARQUARDT: Well, he might be a tougher guy than Cohen, he's had that long military career. But Jim, just look at the numbers, 19 times Michael Flynn met with the special counsel's office, more than 62 hours and 45 minutes, he handed over thousands of documents.

So now you have the two sides, the Flynn side, the Mueller side, both agreeing that because of that extensive cooperation that there shouldn't be any jail time. That is not up to them, that is of course up to the judge. That judge will decide on Tuesday.

SCIUTTO: And what did he tell them during that cooperation, that's what should be the question for the president. Alex Marquardt, thanks very much.

HARLOW: All right, Congress stands up to the president, not just Democrats, Republicans as well in a stunning rebuke of the president, the Senate passing a resolution, formally condemning the Saudi Crown Prince directly for the murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi. We'll discuss ahead.