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Michael Cohen Tells All; Death at the Border. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired December 14, 2018 - 13:00   ET


BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Brianna Keilar live from CNN's Washington Headquarters. Underway right now. Says who? Michael Cohen. And extraordinary moment, the president's long time fixer speaking out and he's going down swinging. Trump's campaign, transition, inauguration, business, and his administration all under investigation; the walls are closing in.

Plus a 7-year-old migrant girl dying in U.S. custody at the border. We have new details on what happened. And be careful what you wish for. President Trump said he wishes John Kasich would challenge him in the Republican primary; Kasich joining me to respond.

Up first, he knew it was wrong and so did Donald Trump. That is what former Trump attorney and fixer Michael Cohen says about those hush money payments to two women. Cohen also says the president is not telling the truth about matters involving the Russia investigation. Here's part of his interview with ABC.


GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS: The Special Counsel did that 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?


STEPHANOPOULOS: He's saying very clearly that he never directed to you 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: When you think about it, when you look back, did you know what you were doing?

COHEN: I'm angry at myself because I knew what I was doing was wrong. I stood up before the world yesterday and I accepted the responsibility for my actions.

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.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You are done with the lying?

COHEN: I'm done with the lying and done being loyal to President Trump and my first loyalty belongs to my wife, my daughter, my son, and this country.


KEILAR: I want to bring in CNN Senior White House Correspondent, Pamela Brown. Pamela, Michael Cohen is going down swinging. He is saying the president is not telling the truth here on the Russia probe. Have we heard a response from the president when it comes to this Cohen interview?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: We haven't actually heard any response from the president. He hasn't taken to twitter like we normally see. After this interview we know privately a reporting that he has been seething about Cohen, calling him a liar to his aides. But I just spoke to Rudy Giuliani, the president's attorney, who pushed back of course on the interview as you might expect and said that the president hasn't lied about the Russia investigation.

Now we know that not to be true because the president has previously said there were no contacts between Russians and members of his campaign. Our reporting is at least 16 Trump associates during the campaign communicated with Russians. He also helped write the misleading statement on the Trump Tower meeting. That aside, Michael Cohen did not go further Brianna in terms of what he meant saying the president was lying about the Russia probe. He didn't offer examples, didn't offer any corroborating evidence so

of course, you have to sort of take that with a grain of salt but what we do know that the special counsel does believe he has been truthful, credible in his proper sessions and they have corroborated the information that he has provided to them which is crucial. They are not just taking his word, they're backing it up with evidence according to court filings.

KEILAR: So interesting. All right joining me now we have White House and National Security Editor for "POLITICO", Michael Crowley with us and CNN Chief Political Analyst Gloria Borger. I wonder what stood out to you Gloria?


For me it was just - I mean there are so many facts in what he said, but for me it was sort of this is a different Michael Cohen than we've seen before.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Right, look this is a contrite Michael Cohen. It's also somebody who really wants to get the president. I mean he said I'm not going to be the villain in this as he said in court the other day. What struck me though sort of more substantively was something I think we all assumed but he flat out said nothing at the Trump Organization was ever done unless it was run through Mr. Trump.

We all have to remember that this is a small family business. Trump signed off on everything. So when he came out on Air Force One that infamous day and said he didn't know about the payments to Stormy Daniels and when he said I didn't know this or Michael Cohen did this, you have to take that with a grain of salt from the president. He was involved in everything just as he was involved in everything during the campaign. He was his own campaign manager in many ways and that's how Trump operates inside the White House and that's how he operated the Trump Organization.

KEILAR: It would have to be proven thought, right? That's the point because of Michael Cohen's word. Cohen has lied before. He was asked in the interview why should we believe you now? Cohen said the special prosecutor has this substantial information that shows he is telling the truth. What did you think when you heard that?

MICHAEL CROWLEY, WHITE HOUSE AND NATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR FOR "POLITICO": I'm not as interested in what Michael Coehn says as I am about the evidence the prosecutors are presenting suggesting that they have the corroboration that Pamela was talking about. Someone like Robert Mueller is not going to hang his hat on a guy like Michael Cohen unless there is corroboration.

Michael Cohen's record up until he had this transformation and saw the light of day, for reasons that kind of make sense. OK, you can see why somebody would turn against Trump; feel badly burned. His life has been publicly destroyed. At the same time if you look at this guy's record dating back a decade plus, many of these things are still allegations but he has been mixed up in a lot of really sleazy business. I always flash back to the interview, it's not really an interview, but the threat he made to a "Daily Beast" reporter about a year ago saying the things I'm going to do to you are disgusting. You're going to be paying me for the rest of your life with money you haven't earned yet when he was defending the president from an allegation that has yet to be conclusively knocked down.

Michael Cohen is not a great guy and I would never go on his word alone, but again to your core point, it's that corroboration that prosecutors have. Now we see things moving on the other track with AMI. Right? So we see that AMI as a company -- now there's a whole storyline here.

KEILAR: The parent company of the "National Enquirer."

CROWLEY: That's right where David Pecker, possibly among others, was aware that these payments were happening at least in the case of one of the women at issue totally substantiates what Cohen has been saying and that's why we would believe someone with that kind of personal history.

KEILAR: And I want to talk about that in a moment because that is such an important piece, you're right Michael. But Pamela, Cohen said yes, the president knew that these hush money payments were wrong. That goes to President Trump's tweet and his defense of himself in a way of saying, "He was the lawyer. He was the one who was advising me. He has the liability if he did something illegal."

BROWN: That's right. I mean you've seen the president shifting statements on this matter and his latest strategy is look, I was just relying on my lawyer to do the right thing and follow the law. I never directed him to do anything wrong. But the information that is coming out indicates that the president wanted to suppress these stories in order not to influence the outcome of the election. This is according to court filings with AMI. What the information Cohen has given that there was this August 15th meeting between Donald Trump, David Pecker the CEO of AMI and Michael Cohen where they discussed efforts in which to suppress these negative stories so it wouldn't impact his candidacy to become president.

That flies in the face against what the president has been saying that look, this was an effort not to embarrass his family. Well now this information is coming to light that indicates no, he it knew that these payments were meant to suppress the stories and you wouldn't just -- if you knew that it was the right thing, why not just cut a check to Michael Cohen? Why go around about ways - set up an LLC and so forth to reimburse him.

BORGER: If you don't have anything hide, why are you looking like you're trying to hide something? And by the way, the president has not tweeted about his good friend, Mr. Pecker. And Pecker is clearly protecting himself and protecting AMI and cooperating and saying Donald Trump directed this. As you pointed out, it's in the court documents. And so suddenly the president finds himself -- he can talk about Michael Cohen all he wants and say that he's a liar and all the rest, but Pecker has been protecting Donald Trump and cooperating with Donald Trump on these stories in his tabloid for years and so now what is he going to say about David Pecker?

KEILAR: You look at all the negative coverage of Hillary Clinton on the "National Enquirer" throughout the campaign. How significant is this AMI cooperation Michael?

CROWLEY: Very significant and I think the key point to punctuate here is if Trump had an understanding and intent that involved the campaign, that he was doing this for campaign and political purpose as opposed to avoiding embarrassment from - with his family, that is a potential legal distinction.


Now there is debate about where that line is and how you define it. There is some murky precedent that was set in the John Edwards case several years ago. I think it's worth stressing that although there was no conviction there, the evidence was quite weak potentially relative to what we have here. But the distinction in which Trump is doing this -- and remember, Cohen said this was happening in consultation that he consulted with the Trump campaign before carrying through on the Stormy Daniels payment. Why was he talking to the Trump campaign if it was purely an effort to avoid embarrassing Melania and sheltering the children? That's a political context and that could have a very important legal implication and that's a big trouble for the president...

KEILAR: You guys...

CROWLEY: ... and the timing of course.

KEILAR: Chris Christie has just told the "New York Times" that he is not interested in being Chief of Staff. This is normally the job that everybody wants but it seems like no one really wants.

BROWN: Contrary to what the president says.

KEILAR: That's right. He said there's like a dozen -- 10 to 12 people who really want this job.

BROWN: Lining up.

KEILAR: What do you think about that Gloria?

BOLGER: To me, if this were at the beginning of the Trump Administration, I would say that Chris Christie would have wanted to be Chief of Staff or Attorney General even though he had been offed from the transition if you'll recall. But now this doesn't surprise me and this coincides with our reporting all week about how Chris Christie was -- his name was in there but he was not enthusiastic about this. And also don't forget, and we have all been saying this, that there is a bit of an issue a sort of a human speed bump in Jared Kushner inside the White House because Chris Christie was the one who put Jared's father in jail and kept him there.

That was a real issue and I think the relationship between Christie and Trump is on again off again and I'm not sure that Donald Trump completely trusts Chris Christie as someone who would be his ally through everything and I think Chris Christie is having a nice life now and doesn't want to get back into that arena at this particular point so I'm not surprised.

KEILAR: Gloria, thank you so much. Pamela, thank you, Michael really appreciate it. Up next, more on the revelations dropped by Michael Cohen. I will get reaction from a member of the House Oversight Committee. Plus, she was taken into U.S. Border Patrol custody and she died shortly after. What happened to a 7-year-old girl who had come over the border? And new CNN poll numbers just released show that Joe Biden widens his lead among democrats likely to beat the president in 2020.



KEILAR: Michael Cohen, the president's former lawyer spoke out for the first time since he was sentenced to prison and he was emphatic when then candidate Trump knew exactly what was going on with hush money payments to two women. Let's listen.


COHEN: 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.


KEILAR: I want to bring in Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi who is joining me now from Chicago. He is a democrat and he is a member of the house oversight and government reform committee. Congressman, thanks so much for being with us. As you listen to this...


KEILAR: ... interview, those hush money payments, the multiple investigations, just big picture what does this all amount to for you?

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Well thanks for having me on. I think this is the first time that we've seen, you know a direct connection to a crime or a felony indicated on sentencing memos or official court documents and so that's very serious.

KEILAR: Very, very serious to you. What is for you if there is a red line in the eventually the Mueller findings that might require democrats to act on impeachment. We have heard a lot of democrats being cautious to go to that level yet but what would the red line be for you even if the republicans remain supportive of the president?

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Well as you know impeachment involves high crimes and misdemeanors. Obviously a felony would count. I think that a lot of people like myself are right now just waiting for Special Counsel Mueller to do his complete job and just find out the extent of the wrong-doing. What are all the details behind them and then assess what's the next step. Upper most in people's mind right now Brianna, is in the remaining 21 days or so, three weeks until the House democrats take over, how do we make sure that the Mueller investigation continues unimpeded?

KEILAR: Congress has discretion. You talk about a felony rising to fit that definition of high crimes and misdemeanors. Congress though has the discretion and I wonder as you think about when these findings come out depending on what they are going to be, is it on your mind that when republicans impeached Bill Clinton and democrats stood by him, the republicans were unsuccessful and politically they paid for it. Is that - is that something that is on your mind as you think about how you are going to make this decision?

KRISHNAMOORTHI: I think definitely that will be a consideration. As you know, the Constitution when it talks about impeachment obviously refers to crimes, but there is a political element to it in a sense that did what the president do go against the fundamental character or values that America represents and is there a consensus in America or in Congress about his conduct?

I think that lot of people probably know this already but while an impeachment starts in the House, really the trial occurs in the Senate and you need a two thirds majority of the Senate to convict. And so I think that probably what also weighs on people's minds is the following. Even if the House voted to impeach a president, if he or she were then cleared in the Senate because you couldn't muster a two thirds majority, how would that play out politically? Would that then mean that the president would be able to declare that he has been vindicated and become even more bold in his actions or basically point to this as a reason why he should continue to do what he was doing that was the problem in the first place.

KEILAR: I want to ask you about this looming partial government shut down scheduled to happen here in about a week. The president wants the border wall funding. He says he will shut down the government if he doesn't get that funding. Do you think this shut down is inevitable at this point?

KRISHNAMOORTHI: I don't think it's inevitable. Look, in your recent poll, 60 percent of Americans do not want a wall; they don't want a wall. I have not met a single House republican on the border with Mexico who wants the wall either. I think that the president should accept reality and basically bend to the will of the American people and hash out a deal that allows for the government to continue to be funded and do what the American people want.

KEILAR: He's not -- he's not doing that though. Right? And I hear what you are saying. The poll did show I think 57 percent, I have to double check, but yes, about 6 in 10 Americans who don't want a wall. At the same time the president is standing firm on this so that said, where are we headed?

KRISHNAMOORTHI: He might be standing firm on this, but obviously Senate republicans and others can prevail upon him and basically get him to accept the reality which I think that Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer were trying to convey to him the other day which is that not only does public opinion not favor a wall, but a lot of republicans in Congress don't either.

They will pay the price in 2020 if a shutdown happens because of a wall. Not only will they, but I think the president would as well. These are political considerations that I hope that they bring to his attention sooner rather than later. We should hash out a deal, fund the government and then go on to regular order or the business of what the people want in the next Congress.

KEILAR: All right Congressman, thank you so much for joining us. Congressman Krishnamoorthi with us.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Thank you so much.

KEILAR: We appreciate it. The president's administration, his business, his transition team, his foundation, his campaign all under investigation. And meantime, tragedy on the border, a 7-year-old Guatemalan girl dies after being taken into U.S. border patrol custody.



KEILAR: An extraordinary moment that played out on TV today, the president's former lawyer who is going to prison, breaking his silence. Michael Cohen says he president knew that arranging hush money payments was wrong.


STEPHANOPOULOS: Why should we believe you now?

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


KEILAR: Here to show us the big headlines related to the Russia probe, CNN's Political Correspondent Sarah Murray. Sarah.

SARAH MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well Brianna, there are plenty of developments this week and what's interesting is we're seeing developments not just from the special counsel's team but also from prosecutors in other jurisdictions. Let's start with the president's inaugural committee. We know that Mueller's team has been looking at this previously to see if there was foreign money that went into it. Now we also have learned that prosecutors in New York are looking into this committee and looking into whether there were any financial abuses with the donations and whether there were folks who had their donations accepted because they wanted to gain some kind of access or some kind of sway with the incoming administration.

Now let's move on to the development that probably gets the closest to the president. This is that meeting between Donald Trump and David Pecker, the head of AMI, and Michael Cohen. Now what we have learned and that CNN has confirmed that Donald Trump was in this meeting in 2015 with the two gentlemen. This is really the beginning of this whole scandal surrounding hush money payments. This is when they decided that AMI was going to try to kill stories that may be harmful to Donald Trump throughout his presidential campaign and this is what ultimately led to Michael Cohen standing in that court and implicating President Trump in two felonies.

Now the last development we have today, this is probably a more minor one. We are expecting the special counsel to file an update on what they want to do with Michael Flynn. It's their response to Michael Flynn's sentencing memo. Both Mueller's team and Flynn have asked the judge not to give him any jail time. They said he has cooperated extensively. You remember Brianna, he was one of the earliest cooperators in the special counsel's investigation.

KEILAR: Thank you Sarah for breaking all of that down as Congress is debating immigration policy in Washington real tragedy is unfolding at the border.