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Cohen Says, I Lied Out of Loyalty to Trump; Outgoing Wisconsin Governor Signs Bill Weakening Power of Democrats; Any Moment Now Mueller Response to Flynn Sentencing Memo; Seven-Year-Old Girl Dies in Border Patrol Custody. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired December 14, 2018 - 14:00   ET


[14:00:00] ANA CABRERA, CNN HOST: Hello, I'm Ana Cabrera in for Brooke Baldwin. We've said it before when it comes to the Trump White House, unprecedented, historic. This Friday is no different. These are all of the current investigations in and around Trump world at the moment. The Trump campaign, the Trump transition team, the Trump Inaugural Committee, the Trump Foundation, the Trump Organization and of course the Trump administration. Just think about that for a moment. The one common denominator in each of those, President Trump himself, who is lashing out and blaming other people around him as his personal life and professional life are increasingly under siege, as the walls close in, Michael Cohen is talking publicly. He sounds like a different man than the former fixer willing to take a bullet for his boss, now a convicted felon freely speaking his mind. Cohen giving his first interview since being sentenced to three years in prison to ABC News this morning. Gone is the man who touted everything from Trump's intelligence to his compassion.


MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER LAWYER FOR DONALD TRUMP: One thing Donald Trump is, he's a compassionate man.

He's a man of great intellect, great intuition, great abilities.

Mr. Trump's memory is fantastic. And I've never come across a situation where Mr. Trump has said something that is not accurate.

The words the media should be using to describe Mr. Trump are generous, compassionate, principled, empathetic, kind, humble, honest and genuine.

He will ultimately, and I have said this so many times, he will ultimately go down in history as the greatest President.


CABRERA: In his place, a man who says he is done covering up for the President.


COHEN: 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, 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.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC HOST: You lied for him for a long time.

COHEN: More than ten years.


COHEN: Out of loyalty. Out of loyalty to him.

STEPHANOPOULOS: He's saying very clearly that he never directed to you 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 is 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: 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.

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: How does this end for Donald Trump?

COHEN: 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: Are you 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.


CABRERA: Joining us now, M.J. Lee and Jaimie Nawaday. Seeing that change, the man we saw a couple years ago to the man we're seeing today in this interview with ABC News, your thoughts?

[14:05:00] MJ LEE, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I think the single biggest change we're seeing in Michael Cohen is how he feels about President Trump going from this guy, as you said, who was so loyal to his boss to now outright calling the President a liar on national television. That is pretty stunning. I thought one of the most fascinating things in the interview was Michael Cohen sort of acknowledging myself that they did have this abusive relationship, him and President Trump. He acknowledges that the relationship started because he had real admiration for Donald Trump back when he wasn't President. He says that he had a good time working at the Trump organization and then at some point in time he realizes that he became blindly loyal to this person and so loyal he was willing to even lie on his behalf. You're absolutely right that even having covered the 2016 campaign, this is a man who was always in the room with Donald Trump, always willing to defend him. So now to see him speaking this way about this man that he was so loyal to really is stunning.

CABRERA: And here he is, Jaimie, playing the victim card on one hand but also saying he's taking full responsibility. I mean, how does that play with the Department of Justice, those officials as he's trying to apparently have it both ways.

JAIMIE NAWADAY, FORMER ASSISTANT U.S. ATTORNEY, SOUTHERN DISTRICT NEW YORK: Well, I think quite simply he's just hit his limit. I don't know that I'd agree that he's playing the victim card as much as he's been a punching bag for however long for Donald Trump and he's just decided enough is enough. It could hurt him in the eyes of the department of justice. I think this probably is a signal that he's done cooperating for good. He would have an opportunity to continue cooperating after sentencing, either before he needs to report to start serving his sentence or while he's in prison. He could continue to cooperate, his lawyers could reach back out and he could be resentenced. When someone anticipates doing that, they don't go to the national press, the prosecutors wouldn't want them talking further because it could be fodder for cross-examination. So, I think this is a signal that he so desperately wants to be done with this whole affair and wants to stand up for himself and he wants to push back on Donald Trump that he's giving up further cooperation to do this.

CABRERA: But how can you see it that way? He also said to George Stephanopoulos that he didn't want to say more because he didn't want to hurt the investigation into Russia. NAWADAY: You can still say more but not compromise the investigation.

If he had gone out and said here's exactly why I think Donald Trump is lying about the Russia probe, here are all the examples, that would seriously compromise the investigation and that's something Cohen would not want to do, regardless of his decision on further cooperation.

CABRERA: M.J., we know in the SDNY filing they don't see Cohen as being fully cooperative with his investigation because they gave him three years, he was sentenced to three years. That was a signal to him, punishment, like you haven' been fully cooperative. Not like Flynn and coming out early and laying it all on the line there. Why won't he cooperate fully?

LEE: His lawyers didn't pursue the full traditional cooperation deal where he could have gotten sentenced after the investigation was done and they actually explained very clearly why he did that. He simply said that who wanted the sentencing to go on when it was originally scheduled on last week because he was so ready to move on with his life. He wanted to get whatever jail time he was going to get and then go serve it so he could come out and be reunited with his family. And I think that was another sort of key part of that interview on ABC. He talked about his family a lot and the pain he has already sort of inflicted on his family and how important it is for him to be able to return to his normal life after all of this is over. And we know from or reporting that that has been sort of a key factor for him from the moment that he decided he was going to cooperate with investigators and no longer have the President's back.

[14:10:00] CABRERA: M.J. Lee, thank you. Jaimie, stick around. We'll have you back in a moment. Wisconsin Republican Governor Scott Walker signed a controversial legislation that weakens the power of his incoming Democratic successor. Let's bring in Rebecca Buck with all the details for us. So, Rebecca, how did he explain it?

REBECCA BUCK, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Governor Walker on his way out his way out the door signing these bills saying that he is not going to cave in to all the hype and hysteria from protesters, who are calling this a power grab, calling it tantamount to a coup. I will read you his full signing statement explaining why he decided to sign this package of bills. He said "despite all the hype and hysteria out there, these bills do nothing to fundamentally diminish executive authority. The bottom line is the new governor will continue to be one of the most powerful chief executives in the country."

That includes line-item veto powers and he goes on to continue to explain his decision. Not a huge surprise that Governor Walker decided to sign he's bills. He suggested in recent days that he would do so, but nevertheless, a great deal of controversy around the Republican legislation and his decision to approve it because it limits incoming Governor Tony Evers' ability to pull the state out of a lawsuit. Evers said "Governor Walker chose to ignore and override the will of the people of Wisconsin. This will no doubt be his legacy. The people demanded a change and asked us to solve problems, not pick petty, political fights." A very strong response there from Evers as well. CABRERA: Right, I know perhaps this is not the end. He signaled

previously he may challenge this. Just in to CNN, former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has taken himself out of running for the White House chief of staff position. Sara Westwood is at the White House for us with more on this.

SARAH WESTWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: That's right. Chris Christie is just the latest person to come out and signal they're not

interested in being President Trump's chief of staff. He said in a statement it's an honor to have the President consider me as he looks to choose a new White House chief of staff, however I've told the President that now is not the right time for me or my family to undertake this serious assignment and have asked him to longer keep me in his considerations for this post."

The President has a very limited amount of time to choose someone to replace outgoing Chief of Staff John Kelly, and he tells reporters he is considering five different names for this post. But some people who were considered strong contenders for this job are out of the running, one of them being Congressman Mark Meadows who along with the President announced he is no longer under consideration earlier this week. Other contenders still are David Bossie, his former deputy campaign manager, someone who has the pit bull-like mentality the President is looking for as he seeks to transition his West Wing into a more political face heading into the new year. But some of his other earlier selections like Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Nick Mulvaney have signaled they're not interested. This is such a fluid process, it is not clear at any point who is up and who is down as he searches for someone to replace Kelly as he did not have a backup plan when his first choice for the job Nick Ayers pulled out.

CABRERA: So, is John Kelly going to have to stick around a little bit longer? Sara, we know you're staying up on the twists and turns on this front. A lot more to come this hour after major bomb shells all week and Robert Mueller's Russia investigation, we are now moments away from a new deadline. Mueller is about to issue a new court filing pertaining to Michael Flynn. Just what it will say, a team of reporters and producers are standing by ready to dig in for all the new details.

And the death of a 7-year-old on the border is raising a lot of questions. Did she get the medical attention she needed when the U.S. took her into custody?

And sorry, President Trump, collusion is a crime.


CABRERA: If you've been paying attention, you know we've seen a steady stream of bomb shells since thanksgiving. The latest one may have a big impact on Michael Flynn's punishment when he is sentenced next week. Robert Mueller must submit a response by 3 p.m. on the submission of Flynn's attorney. The man who was the national security adviser for 23 days should not get any jail time for lying to the FBI and that's because of his early onset and substantial assistance. Let take a deep dive on this with CNN senior justice correspondent Evan Perez and back with us federal prosecutor Jaimie Nawaday.

[14:20:00] EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: You would think there's not much more for Mueller to say, but the last filing, which was from Flynn's lawyers, sort of took a walk in the woods that was kind of strange. It talked about the circumstances under which he was questioned by the FBI and raised concern as to whether or not he was duped into essentially lying to the FBI. At least that's the interpretation people took from it. I think now there's a little bit of pressure for Mueller's investigators and prosecutors to respond to this and make clear that Flynn lied on his own volition, that he did not get tricked into lying by the FBI and that he does deserve no jail time, no prison time because of the help he has provided. Given the judge that's overseeing this, Emmitt Sullivan, I think the prosecutors are under pressure to make sure there's no doubt that Flynn lied to the FBI on his own without any trickery on the part of the FBI.

CABRERA: Jamie, as you recall, the help he has provided. Given the judge that's overseeing this, Emmitt Sullivan, the think the prosecutors are under pressure to make sure there's no doubt that Flynn lied to the FBI on his own without any trickery on the part of the FBI. Jamie, as you recall, the initial Flynn sentencing memo from the special counsel team last week was pretty extensive but a lot of it was redacted. Do you think we'll get more about what Flynn told investigators in today's filing?

NAWADAY: I don't think we'll get much more about what he told investigators. I think we will get more context to the statements in Flynn's own sentencing memo. It is a tricky thing for defense counsel to do because it was almost as if he was talking about entrapment, which he really wasn't but I think that's what some people took away from it. And defense counsel went to great lengths to be very clear they're not walking back his acceptance of responsibility, which is extremely powerful and important at sentencing. He wants to be very clear, yes, I lied, yes, I take responsibility for that. But the judges have to look at the nature and circumstances of the offense and the characteristics of the defendant and what was put forth in the sentencing memo are relevant to both of those. I was lulled into believing I was having a casual conversation and I lied but that's a different thing than where I'm sitting down with a prosecutor and I'm reminded again and again I must tell the absolute truth, the complete truth, if I'm even tempted to lie, I should take a break. When you lie under those circumstances, it is a different thing than having a casual conversation, having a moment to panic.

CABRERA: Do you think Flynn's team made a mistake when they issued their sentencing memo after Mueller's team already said we think he should get no jail time?

NAWADAY: I don't think so. It's relevant to his reputation and the whole picture. The judge wants to look at the full measure of a human being at sentencing and get at much context as possible. They were very careful to say although we're pointing out these additional facts, he still accepts full responsibility for what he did.

CABRERA: Evan, why do you think the President continues to back Flynn when he was fired for lying to the Trump administration?

PEREZ: I think we have clips of the President explaining why he fired Michael Flynn and he said it was because he lied not only to the vice President and caused the White House to put out a false story. One of the mysteries is how Flynn differs from all these other people. What the President doesn't know is exactly what Michael Flynn has done behind the scenes in all of those 6 hours or so of interviews that he has done with the special counsel, what exactly he's produced, how valuable he has been to this investigation. According to Mueller, he's been incredibly valuable. So, do I find it strange that the President has sort of held his fire. As you know, Ana, he never misses a chance to go after people that he believes have been essentially traitors to him.

CABRERA: 62 hours, 45 minutes, thousands of documents, 19 interviews, all of what Flynn has given to the special counsel team. We hope to learn more. We'll bring it to you as soon as those documents are filed. Thank you both. Up next, Joe Biden dominating a new CNN poll of potential 20 Democrats. Van Jones will join us live to weigh in on this. Plus, the tragic death of a Guatemalan girl in border control custody. Did she get the medical attention she needed fast enough and who should be held responsible?


CABRERA: We are learning more about a 7-year-old dying after being taken into Border Patrol custody. The child crossed the U.S./Mexico border last Thursday with her father, both originally from Guatemala. A few hours later she became violently ill and began to vomit while in transit. When they arrived, the girl was not breathing, according to her father. Agents revived her and flew her to a hospital where she died from liver failure.

Now officials just released this statement, "Without the lifesaving measures undertaken by Border Patrol, this child would likely have died in the desert along without any medical care whatsoever. Joining us now is Van Jones, the host of "The Van Jones Show."

[14:30:00] This is so heartbreaking. Obviously, this child arrived in such bad shape. I want to first get your reaction to what's transpired and the timing of it given there is this fight now over the southern border as we speak.

VAN JONES, CNN HOST: First of all, it's a tragedy. We don't know all the facts yet. We know what they're saying. I want to get more information before I come to a conclusion. Part of the reason this hurts so badly is because the Trump administration has been so tough on those families, taking babies from moms and stuff like that. So even if this is a situation where we were doing more help than harm, the overall situation for Americans is it feels like down there on the border, we're doing more harm than help for those families. I think it's a tragedy. I want to get more information and hear from the family themselves and hear what they have to say. I'm not going to just take homeland security's word for it given the behavior of our folks down there. CABRERA: Let's talk about 2020.