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Michael Cohen Breaks Silence After Sentencing; Prosecutors Respond Today to Michael Flynn's Request for No Jail Time. Aired 10- 10:30a ET

Aired December 14, 2018 - 10:00   ET


[10:00:00] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: If we prevent more horrific acts of violence, our leaders need to stop demonizing the men and women of the NRA and find solutions that will save lives.

All right. Good Friday morning. It is the top of the hour. I'm Poppy Harlow in New York.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, buckle up. There's a lot of news to get through today. I'm Jim Sciutto in Washington. His days as the president's fixer are far behind him. Three years in prison now lie ahead. But Michael Cohen says, and we're quoting here, I am done with the lying. The president, he says, is not done.

In an interview with ABC's George Stephanopoulos, Cohen says the then- candidate Trump did in fact direct him to make hush money payoffs to alleged mistresses. He says those payoffs were meant to help the Trump campaign. And that's key. And he says that the future president knew that they were wrong to make those payments. Listen to Cohen.


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

MICHAEL COHEN, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S FORMER LAWYER: 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 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.


HARLOW: OK. So there is that, Jim. And let's just take a step back, because it is Friday morning, and it has been quite a week. And let's think about all of the entities that are all under investigation right now as related in some way to the president. Look at this. All under investigation. The Trump campaign, the Trump transition, the Trump inaugural committee, the Trump administration, the Trump Organization. And let me add another one on there, the Trump Foundation.

Let's break it all down. Our legal analyst Jennifer Rodgers is here. Our political commentator Scott Jennings is here from "The New York Times," CNN political analyst as well, Julia Hirschfeld Davis.

Good morning to you all. And before we get to the politics of it, guys, let me begin with you, Jennifer, and let's just get legally to the issues here. Michael Cohen said a lot. He said the president isn't truthful, he said he lied about Russia. He also said he directed him to make these payments in order to help him win the presidency, essentially, to help his campaign. He said he would keep cooperating if wanted and then he said, quote, "There is a substantial amount of information that they," meaning Mueller's prosecutors, "possess that corroborates the fact I'm telling the truth."

A substantial amount of information. If you're the president this morning, you're listening to that, what are you thinking?

JENNIFER RODGERS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I think the president is very worried for a few reasons. One of course is that we don't know all the information that Mueller was provided by Cohen. We don't know the information that was provided by Flynn or Manafort before he stopped cooperating effectively. There's a lot out there that have not been part of these sentencing memos so all of that is still an unknown and there's a lot there across all of the meetings that have been happening.

The other thing the president should be very worried about, to me, is the biggest news of the week as far as he is concerned, which is that AMI non-prosecution agreement.

[10:05:06] Because that is what totally, apart from Michael Cohen, corroborates the fact that the president was doing this, paying the hush money payments because of the campaign. And that is huge. And secondly, it means that the Southern District of New York is going after this case. There is no reason to meet a non-cooperation -- a non-prosecution agreement with AMI if they're not trying to turn AMI into a witness. And the only reason to do that is to go after more targets.


SCIUTTO: Scott Jennings, let's stipulate first that the president lied about this in April. He said he didn't know about the payments. Now he says he knows about them, but the new argument is that either it's the lawyer's fault or it doesn't matter. Rudy Giuliani is now saying well, no one died, therefore it's not a big deal.

In your view, do you agree that breaking campaign finance law that's proven that the president did, that that's not a big deal?

SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I'm still wondering if this is actually breaking campaign finance law. I do agree with Jennifer that the two cases are different. I think the payment to Stormy Daniels, they're going to have a better defense on that one. The more troubling one or the more problematic one is the "National Enquirer" issue where you get into corporate contribution issues and obviously they've turned them into a witness as she stated.

So I sort of look at them as two separate matters even though everybody is lumping them together. I mean, of course, it's serious. I mean, I would say that I'm dubious about whether a president should be jailed or impeached over campaign finance matters. I do think these things could be handled by the FEC. SCIUTTO: Why if someone else -- Michael Cohen is going to jail. You

or I might go to jail. Why shouldn't the president pay a price like every American? I mean, does he -- is he in a special category?

JENNINGS: Sure. No, he's not in a special category. I'm just saying there are sometimes more ways to handle campaign finance violations than sending people to jail. It happens, frankly, very infrequently, and also, by the way, Cohen is not just going to jail over this. He's a tax cheat, he committed bank fraud. He did a lot of things that have nothing to do with the Trump campaign. I'm not trying to minimize this. It's clearly going to have to be dealt with. The president should never have lied about this. He should never have paid the women. I don't think it would have made a bit of difference in October if he made the payments or not. I think he would have won anyway.

But they really need a story and they need to stick to it. This going all around and coming up with if this, if this, if this, that's not helping the PR of it. It's probably not helping the legal issues either. I'm not a lawyer, but I'd suspect now with an indictment hanging out there on campaign finance issues, I wouldn't want my client out there talking all around coming up with, you know, several different stories every day.

HARLOW: Julia, when you talk about the politics of what this means for the president, aside from any potential charges, what about politically, right, the potential for impeachment. There's a new CNN poll this morning that I think is telling and perhaps a good sign for the president on how people feel about moving towards impeachment for him. We've seen a decline among the number of Americans that actually want to see impeachment proceedings. It's down to 43 percent from 47 percent in September.

Fifty percent of Americans now oppose impeachment for the president, and independents, this is the number that really matters here. The independent voter support for impeachment proceedings against this president has fallen 12 points since September. Explain that to us politically.

JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I mean, I think when you see those numbers, you understand why Democrats like Jerry Nadler, who will be the incoming chairman of the Judiciary Committee in the House when the Democrats take control in January --


HIRSCHFELD DAVIS: -- say that, you know, you look at what these revelations are, it's clear that to him that he says that these are impeachable offenses but not necessarily clear that that means the House should move forward with impeachment. I think there is a recognition among Democrats that there is a big split in the public and many independents and maybe even some Democrats who believe that that would be a bridge too far, even if these things were -- are proven to be true and are, you know, technically impeachable offenses.

But I think maybe one of the reasons also that you've seen a bit of a drop-off is that in the public, in the electorate, there was a pent-up sense of dissatisfaction with the Republican Congress protecting President Trump and a feeling that now that Democrats have won the House, that they may investigate more, that they may be more of a check on the president, and perhaps maybe that lessens the intensity of the feeling that he needs to be impeached.

But no question, as more of these revelations come forward and in particular, as we learn more about what the special counsel has related to Russia, if there's additional charges that can be lodged against the president, Democrats are going to be under a lot of pressure to impeach whether or not the public are against it.

HARLOW: Right. Right.

SCIUTTO: Jennifer Rodgers, so you of course have the campaign finance track. That is not the only track that is still under investigation. That was made clear from the special counsel's office during Michael Cohen's sentencing when a representative of the office, Jeannie Rhee, stood up in court and said that Cohen has, quote, "provided our office with credible and reliable information about core Russia related issues under investigation within the purview of the special counsel's office."

Does the special counsel make a statement like that in court if that line of inquiry, the Russia conspiracy question, is closed and if Michael Cohen's contribution was in any way minimal?

[10:10:10] Or should we take that statement at face value?

RODGERS: I think we should take it at face value. They're continuing to work on this. Michael Cohen provided them significant information that they found very useful. You'll remember, in Michael Cohen's sentencing it was really the special counsel's office that was giving him the cooperation that he wanted to get a lower sentence from. You know, SDNY was saying they didn't really help that office very much. He didn't help him very much.

So it was the special counsel's office that he needed to get the good letter from, and they gave it to him. They said that he was very helpful in these core issues that are the Mueller team's mandate to investigation, which is the Russian interference and the obstruction. And so that, to me, is another danger sign for the president because we don't know what he said. You know, it was very interesting that they gave him such a positive letter and that they said that he was giving them information about the -- after the inauguration right into recent times because, of course, Cohen had thought to be out in the cold. And now we know that that's not true.

He was communicating with people in the administration and providing good information about that timeframe as well.

HARLOW: Let me ask you something, Julie, about a new legal front that opened up overnight or that we learned about overnight. And that is the inaugural committee. An investigation into whether there were foreign donations to the inaugural committee, which is illegal. And if so, what they were made to do, was money given to the committee to -- you know, to curry political favor? Again that would be illegal. At this point, how significant is that other than adding another sort of Trump entity to the investigations list?

HIRSCHFELD DAVIS: Well, I think it's potentially quite significant. I mean, as you pointed out at the top, we now have pretty much all the organizations that are affiliated with President Trump are under some sort of investigation.


HIRSCHFELD DAVIS: And we know that in this period, during the end of the campaign and in the transition period, they were planning an inauguration. They did not necessarily think that they were going to win. There was not a lot of care taken with some of these things that they should have been paying very close attention to. And it's very possible that either corners were cut and things were done unwittingly or that, you know, deliberately they were looking for -- as you know, they were looking to reward people who wanted to be a part of the inauguration and if foreigners were a part of that, that is going to be a big legal problem for President Trump.

Quite apart from the rest of what we've been talking about. And it does just go to show that, you know, there is the president -- I think, understands now and certainly his legal team understands that he is under investigation and in peril from a variety of different fronts. And that just complicates the task of defending him against any one of these things.

SCIUTTO: I mean, Poppy, it bears repeating, that list you put up earlier in the show.

HARLOW: Right.

SCIUTTO: Let's just remind folks. These are all the entities related to Trump now under investigation. Trump campaign, Trump transition, Trump inauguration, Trump administration, Trump Organization, Trump Foundation.


SCIUTTO: No final word on those investigations, but investigations under way.

HARLOW: Right. Right.

SCIUTTO: Julie, Jennifer, Scott Jennings, thanks to all of you. A lot to digest there today.

Michael Cohen says that the president is lying about the Russia investigation, full stop. His advice to his former boss coming up.

Plus, the deadline to stop a government shutdown is just one week away now, with Christmas coming. But there is no plan and lawmakers in the House don't return to work until the middle of next week.

HARLOW: Hmm. Also, General Motors laying off thousands of workers. Thousands. In Ohio, the president says those jobs will be, quote, "replaced in like two minutes." Really? Fact checking that ahead.


[10:18:13] SCIUTTO: This morning Michael Cohen says that his former boss whom he worked for for more than a decade, Mr. President, is not telling the truth regarding the Russia investigation. Have a listen.


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 were 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 going 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 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, but -- and so you're saying 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: Seems like it. That's what he does. That's what he does.

[10:20:06] 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 onto 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: That's an extraordinary interview. Jennifer Rodgers, our legal analyst, is back with us.

So, look, he doesn't want to be the villain. He said that. So the part of this is PR for him, right? Telling the American people his side. Right? Part of this, though, also is he's still -- you know, he has three years in prison. He's got, you know, young kids, you know, teenage son, he wants to be with him obviously. He could get a sentence reduction, right? Through more cooperation. Is that right?

RODGERS: That's right, Poppy. So just because he's been sentenced, it isn't necessarily the end of the road. There's a procedure called Overrule 35, motion that prosecutors can make for post-sentencing cooperation. It has to be extraordinary, and again, what he hasn't done yet, he has to completely come clean about all of his and other people's criminal conduct in order to get such a motion. But he could do it if he decides to do so in the Southern District prosecutors decide to file that motion on his behalf.

SCIUTTO: Jennifer, "The Washington Post" has a story out today, reading Mueller's recent moves as far as the progress of the investigation, saying that, you know, but by charging folks in effect taking them off the table, because oftentimes they'll hold cooperating witnesses out there, not sentence them for years, but by taking them off the table, Flynn, Cohen, et cetera, that that's a sign he's starting to wrap things up. In your experience, does that ring true?

RODGERS: I think it does. You know, it's hard to say. This Mueller investigation is so unique, right? But in a typical investigation, you wouldn't have your cooperating witnesses sentenced until all of the other targets are wrapped up, until they themselves are prosecuted, convicted, and sentenced. So it is unusual and it does say to me that while there certainly are still pieces out there, for example, we have the whole Roger Stone side of things that has yet to be wrapped up, at least publicly as far as we know, that he is starting to come to conclusions and maybe looking to write a report sometime next year probably.

HARLOW: Yes. All right. Jennifer Rodgers, thank you for being with us on all of it. Have a good weekend. Jim. SCIUTTO: Yes. Good to draw on that experience.

Also happening today, federal prosecutors, one of these other developments, they'll respond to Michael Flynn's sentencing memo. Flynn has asked for no jail time. Mueller's office they agreed because of his cooperation. So what could we learn today?

Alex Marquardt joins me now with the details. Possible he doesn't serve any jail time?

ALEXANDER MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It is. Both sides are saying that he shouldn't serve any jail time. As is always the case, whether it's Paul Manafort or anybody else involved in this, we're always trying to glean those details. What does Mueller know? And so the two sides are going to appear in court today. We know that Flynn has spoken extensively, cooperated extensively with the Mueller team. More than 19 interviews, more than 62 hours, 45 minutes of questioning, so what has he told the special counsel.

So there are all sorts of questions there. The Mueller team has said that he has provided substantial assistance. We know that Flynn is involved in three different investigations, including the Russia probe. There's speculation that he's also part of the obstruction of justice investigation into the president. The president himself was asked about what Flynn might have told the special counsel's office just yesterday, so let's take a 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: So just to remind our viewers, both sides, the Mueller team and Michael Flynn's lawyers, are saying that he shouldn't serve any jail time. Michael Flynn's lawyers point to the fact that he is sorry. He's contrite. He has this long illustrious military career that he cooperated early and extensively. Those two sides agree that he shouldn't serve any jail time. It will now be up to the judge who will decide on Tuesday. He could face up to six months in prison. That is unlikely. Michael Flynn's lawyers have asked that he serve less than a year of probation and they've offered 200 hours of community service.

SCIUTTO: There's a revealing comment in what the president there is saying. I don't know what he's told the special counsel. Maybe he had to make up a story.


SCIUTTO: Almost expressing a worry that perhaps he did, but of course, if he did, then it would have -- must have been something he was pressured to do and therefore wasn't true.

MARQUARDT: Which is something that he said before when it came to Paul Manafort as well.


MARQUARDT: He said this allegation that the Mueller team is putting a squeeze on so many different people that they're just making up these stories to make him look bad.

SCIUTTO: It's called a prebutal. Alex Marquardt, thanks very much. Poppy.

HARLOW: Yes, it is. All right. So Congress has one week to come up with a plan to keep the government open. That is, by the way, part of why we, you know, pay taxes and pay lawmakers, to keep the government up and running for all of us.

[10:25:02] Still, though, no detail on any deal. And a lot of lawmakers have already skipped town. They're going to come back and have one day near the end of next week to get a deal to avoid a partial shutdown.


HARLOW: So this time next week, Jim, our government will be open and operating smoothly or on the verge of a partial shutdown. A shutdown that is completely avoidable. A shutdown that the president said he's willing to own and that the American people, he says, would support.