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U.S. Federal Judge Strikes Down ObamaCare; Cohen Says Trump Directed Him to Pay Hush Money; Australia Recognizes West Jerusalem as Capital of Israel; Death of Migrant Girl in U.S. Custody under Investigation; Fifth Weekend of Yellow Vest Protests in France. Aired 2-3a ET

Aired December 15, 2018 - 02:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[02:00:00]

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CYRIL VANIER, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Unconstitutional: a federal judge in Texas strikes down ObamaCare.

The law stands for now but will it survive this latest legal challenge?

The special counsel isn't done. CNN learns Robert Mueller still wants to interview the president.

And CNN is in Guatemala with the family of the little girl who died in the custody of U.S. Border Patrol.

Live from the CNN Center here in Atlanta, I'm Cyril Vanier. It is great to have you with us.

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VANIER: At this hour, the law that brought health care to millions of Americans has been struck down by a U.S. judge. The Affordable Care Act -- or ObamaCare as it's known; it was former president Barack Obama's signature piece of legislation -- but a judge has ruled it unconstitutional.

Right now it remains in effect. That means those who want it can still sign up but that ends in just hours on Saturday evening.

If the judge's decision is upheld, millions may end up losing their health care. President Donald Trump, who tried to repeal this legislation earlier in his presidency, tweeted, the ruling was not surprising and it was, quote, "great news for America."

Why the top Democrat in the House promises to intervene to uphold what she calls the lifesaving protections for people "with preexisting conditions and promises to reject the Republican efforts to destroy the Affordable Care Act."

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

VANIER: Former assistant U.S. attorney in Los Angeles, David Katz, joins me for an indepth look at this.

The Affordable Care Act has survived legal challenges before.

So what's different this time around?

DAVID KATZ, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Well, there were about 70 efforts to repeal it. It's also been litigated. It's gone up to the United States Supreme Court and it's been affirmed.

But that was the earlier version. So what just happened now is not going to be the last step. But it's a troubling first judicial step. It's troubling for 130 million Americans with preexisting conditions. It's very disturbing to 12 million people who are on ObamaCare as of 2018.

And tomorrow is their signup day, so it's critical that people realize they need to go tomorrow and sign up because this is not the last word and many people think the appeals will succeed and that this district court, trial court ruling, will be struck down.

(CROSSTALK)

VANIER: So ObamaCare has been found -- you say ObamaCare was affirmed. It was found to be legal by the Supreme Court and lower courts. The individual mandate, because that's what's at issue here, the individual mandate was found to be legal by the Supreme Court.

And fining people who did not purchase health care -- that's the individual mandate -- that was also legal.

But once that fine was set at 0 by Congress, as it has been in the latest federal tax law, then this whole thing becomes illegal?

That's the basis for the judge's thinking, right?

KATZ: Well, the Republicans tried to get rid of ObamaCare, the ACA, a million different ways. And if these zealots were really clever maybe they did it. Maybe they booby-trapped it in a way that the judge said, you know what, now the whole package is unconstitutional.

But that's very dubious, Cyril, whether that's really going to stand up.

(CROSSTALK)

VANIER: Detail the argument for me. I want to make sure I understand it.

KATZ: The argument goes like this. The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that the ACA was constitutional not because -- the commerce clause -- there were five votes to say it was no good, it was unconstitutional under our federalist commerce clause. But five justices were willing to say, including Chief Justice Roberts, that it was OK as a tax.

The argument goes --

(CROSSTALK)

VANIER: And that's the individual mandate, right?

If we consider the individual mandate as a tax, then that is legal?

KATZ: Yes, that certainly was the ruling 5-4 that it functioned as a tax. That if you didn't buy the insurance, you had to pay a tax. And that was within the taxing power of the United States federal government, even though --

(CROSSTALK)

VANIER: So what changed with this Texas federal judge?

KATZ: Well, as of next year, there is no more individual mandate. That was what the Republicans put in the new ACA. And so that's why I say maybe they have booby trapped it in a way that at least satisfied that trial judge down in Texas.

Now mind you, there's 1,000 trial judges in America. This case was in front of the dream judge, the go-to judge for the zealots who were challenging ObamaCare. And the case was heard by a judge who's ruled against ObamaCare provisions --

[02:05:00]

KATZ: -- before. He's a conservative Republican appointed by George W. Bush. And as I say, this particular judge had ruled against ObamaCare, so people don't think it's a total accident that the state attorneys general ended up in front of him.

And then the Trump administration refused to defend the legislation, although it's the law of the land. That's why Democratic states' governors and attorneys general came in, like California's, and defended it. So that's who the appellants are going to be.

And, of course, Pelosi said that the Democrats, once they're in power, are also going to ask to intervene in the lawsuit. So it'll be as appellants, the ones challenging what the Texas trial judge just did, it'll be the House of Representatives, once it's Democratic, and a couple of dozen states, like California with their state attorneys general, complaining that Californians and other state citizens can't get ObamaCare and this ruling is wrong to throw out ObamaCare.

VANIER: So one important thing I have to say for our viewers -- this comes from the White House statement -- this law stands as we speak, right?

The quote is this from the statement, "We expect this ruling will be appealed to the Supreme Court. Pending the appeal process, though, the law remains in place."

So that's important for everyone to know. We don't have a conclusion right now. The law is still what it is and what it was before this ruling.

Look, Donald Trump has appointed two conservative justices to the Supreme Court.

Does that mean if, this case goes all the way back to the Supreme Court, it is more likely to be struck down than last time?

KATZ: Well, it's a little frightening, as I say, in terms of the people who need this care. We don't want to return to the days -- Republicans say we're going to return to the days when people had choice.

But the reality was 20 million Americans, poor Americans, in particular, people who had pre-existing conditions, the only choice they had was to go to the emergency room and hope they could get care when they were --

(CROSSTALK)

VANIER: But there's a matter of law in this new Supreme Court with a new bench?

KATZ: Well, Scalia voted with the four. So Gorsuch or Kavanaugh will vote as Scalia did, let's say.

The question is, will one of them vote like Kennedy?

If one of them votes like Kennedy, there's the four.

Then what will Chief Justice Roberts do?

Now you have to look at the new law as a whole. And I don't buy it, that it's still not a tax. I believe it's still a tax. It still has punitive aspects if you don't get it when you look at the law as a whole.

On top of that, I've always thought they were wrong about the commerce clause. Once you look at the case again with the new act, I believe it is within the commerce clause. They found other things didn't violate federalism.

In America, the idea is that the states have all these rights and they retained a lot of rights and the federal government has to be careful not to encroach on the states.

But the idea of controlling health care, it's the biggest part of the economy. It's a huge part. The idea they're reaching into everyone's life regarding some trivial matter, this is the most important matter in many, many people's lives, their health care.

VANIER: David Katz, former assistant U.S. attorney, thank you so much.

KATZ: My pleasure, thank you.

VANIER: CNN has learned that special counsel Robert Mueller still wants to speak with President Trump but his lawyers are dead set against it. Pamela Brown has the details from Washington.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Special counsel Robert Mueller's team continues to be interested in interviewing the president, two sources familiar with the matter tell me. Now Mueller's stance on interviewing the president has been constant for a year and a half. We're told nothing has changed in that sense from the first day, the sources said.

The president and his lawyers are still very much opposed to any potential interview. The president's legal team have resumed some discussion with the special counsel In the weeks since the president responded to written questions, mostly regarding collusion and the time period before the inauguration, these sources said.

And the two sides have agreed to hold off on discussing any interview while the president wrote responses to the questions, which were returned just before Thanksgiving.

That was seen as a first step to concluding more than a year of back- and-forth between the two sides. And the president's lawyers had hoped it would bring Mueller closer to finishing his probe.

But we're told Mueller's interest in talking with the president continues and it includes an interest in asking questions about the president's state of mind in regard to actions under scrutiny in the obstruction probe.

There has been no indication Mueller is moving to subpoena the president, one of these sources said. And asked in Mueller had follow up questions to the president's written responses, the source declined to comment.

Now the president's attorney Rudy Giuliani reiterated that opposition to mean on any potential interviews, stressing the mistrust by the president's lawyers of Mueller's aggressive investigation in their view.

He said, "I am pretty disgusted with them."

The office of the special counsel declined to comment -- Pamela Brown, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VANIER: "I will not be --

[02:10:00]

VANIER: -- "the villain of his story," the words of Michael Cohen. Donald Trump's former attorney gave his first interview since pleading guilty in a case stemming from the Russia probe. And he told ABC News he's done being loyal to the U.S. president.

He said Friday that his then boss directed him to pay hush money to women who alleged affairs with Mr. Trump. He said the scheme was directly tied to Mr. Trump's presidential ambitions. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC HOST: He's saying very clearly that he never directed you to do anything wrong.

Is that true?

MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER TRUMP ATTORNEY: I don't think there's anybody that believes that. First of all, nothing at the Trump Organization has ever done unless it was run through Mr. Trump.

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: He -- 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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VANIER: President Trump denies ordering those payments but Cohen accused him of lying and said prosecutors have evidence supporting his claims.

Meanwhile, President Trump has picked an acting White House chief of staff. There he is. He announced Mick Mulvaney will take over the job at the end of the year after current chief of staff John Kelly leaves. The White House said Friday that he will keep his current job as director of the Office of Management and Budget.

A senior administration official says there's no time limit for Mulvaney to remain as chief of staff.

CNN political commentator and Republican strategist Alice Stewart joins me now. She's also the former communications director for Ted Cruz, who ran against Donald Trump in 2016 and, more recently, against Beto O'Rourke for a Senate seat in Texas. That will become relevant later on in this conversation.

Let's start with Mick Mulvaney. He'll be the acting chief of staff now for Donald Trump.

Do you think this changes anything to the Trump presidency?

ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Not really, Cyril. I think Mulvaney, evidently two jobs weren't enough for him so he needed to have one more. But this has always been and we always knew this was an unconventional presidency.

And in terms of who holds what job and what job title people have, this is going to be different than what we've seen in the past. And I wouldn't be surprised if we keep him in this interim position for quite some time.

I will say this, of all the names that have been run out there, in terms of who would fill the slot, Mulvaney is a good one. He's been a loyal soldier to President Trump in whatever position he has had. He is a good advocate for this president and his policies and he's someone certainly very well respected amongst the staff.

(CROSSTALK)

VANIER: -- I'll just jump in -- loyal and respected but not a heavyweight. Chris Christie was in the running and then he withdrew his name. Nick Ayers made some waves earlier, some high profile congressmen as well.

Mick Mulvaney flies a little bit under the radar when you compare him to those names.

STEWART: And that's not a bad thing. This next person who fills this role is going to be different than when the president came in. With all going on, certainly as we're moving closer to 2020, this person has to be someone who can work with Congress and understand the legislative aspect of the role.

He has to be political and manage those aspects as we're moving towards 2020. And now that the Mueller probe is really tightening and he has to understand the investigative part of the role moving forward and work with the staff to oversee the staff, the staff part of that role.

So this is -- the dynamics have changed with the administration, which means the dynamics of the chief of staff are changing. So you don't need to be heavy-handed. You just need to be able to do exactly what the president wants.

VANIER: Absolutely. Work with the staff but first and foremost work with this president.

The president tweeted on this topic, he said, "For the record, there are many people who wanted to be White House chief of staff. Mick M. will do a great job."

That's sort of eyebrow raising when you know at least three people withdrew their names from consideration over the last 8-9 days. It's been overall a terrible week for the president. Nobody wanted to be his chief of staff for a while. His former associates are falling one by one.

We saw Michael Cohen going to jail after implicating the president now in felonies. Donald Trump's friend, David Pecker at AMI, cooperating with investigators. Trump's inaugural committee is under criminal investigation. Has this been one of the worst weeks for the president so far?

STEWART: I think a lot of Fridays that is a statement of the week.

(CROSSTALK)

VANIER: I have asked the statement before.

STEWART: But this has been an especially busy and troublesome week, as the Mueller probe zeroes in. But I can tell you this, I was at the White House today for some meetings and I can tell you that --

[02:15:00]

STEWART: -- the staff there are focused on their mission at hand. Whether they're dealing with the economy and creating jobs and pushing that agenda or whether they're focusing on immigration and building the wall or whether they're looking at foreign policy issues.

They are not being sidetracked by a lot of what they view as the palace intrigue as to who fills what position.

(CROSSTALK)

VANIER: It's beyond palace intrigue when we're talking about people going to jail implicating the president or when we're talking about criminal investigations. It's beyond palace intrigue.

STEWART: Oh, I agree with you on those issues. I totally agree with you, that is serious and that is a concern.

I'm referring to the chief of staff and how and when that position will get filled. And they view that as people getting too wrapped up in the day to day staffing positions.

(CROSSTALK)

VANIER: -- big picture.

STEWART: But all of those other issues, absolutely, yes. Those are serious. And we don't know what will happen with Michael Cohen, the new revelations with him and the Mueller probe is getting closer. And that is serious.

But I'm just referring to their job inside the White House. They're looking at their individual job and responsibility and they're not getting sidetracked.

But, yes, the Mueller probe is certainly becoming an issue and it's something that not just the president but a lot of those inside the White House will be focusing on in the days and weeks to come.

VANIER: Thank you very much, Alice Stewart, for joining us.

STEWART: Thanks, Cyril. VANIER: The U.S. opens an investigation as a family mourns the young migrant girl who died in U.S. custody. We'll hear from her family when we come back.

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[02:20:00]

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VANIER: Australia's prime minister says his government now recognizes West Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Scott Morrison says Australia will moves its embassy from Tel Aviv when it's practical to do so. And he added that Australia recognizes the aspirations of Palestinians for future states with its capital in East Jerusalem.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SCOTT MORRISON, AUSTRALIAN PRIME MINISTER: Fundamentally it's the right of every country to determine its national capital. That is why the government have asked the question about the position we have long adopted in relation to Jerusalem.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VANIER: The U.S. Department of Homeland Security is investigating the death of a 7-year-old Guatemalan girl who died while in U.S. custody. She died two days after being detained by Border Patrol agents for crossing into the U.S. illegally with her father.

Family members back in her hometown in Guatemala are now in mourning. They say she and her father had to go to the U.S. to support them.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLAUDIA MARIBEL MAQUIN, MOTHER OF JAKELIN ROSEMARY CAAL MAQUIN (through translator): I would like my husband to stay and work in the U.S. because the resources are scarce for us to be able to pay the bills. It's not easy.

DOMINGO CAAL, GRANDFATHER OF JAKELIN ROSEMARY CAAL MAQUIN (through translator): I'm not going to speak that much because I can barely take it. It's difficult for us. This happened because we are very much in need.

The girl would jump in happiness that she would get to go to United States, very happy and content. But she didn't know. For us, it's very difficult.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VANIER: Border Patrol agents say they did everything they possibly could to try and save her life but the 7-year-old girl's death is still under investigation. CNN's Ed Lavandera reports. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Federal officials say 7-year old Jakelin Rosemary Caal Maquin would have likely died in the desert had Border Patrol agents not intervened with medical help. But despite that calls for an investigation into what happened in the hours she was in custody before her death are growing.

The girl had just celebrated her 7th birthday three days earlier when she and her father made the difficult journey through treacherous terrain.

KIRSTJEN NIELSEN, SECRETARY, DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY: This is just a very sad example of the dangers of this journey.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): According to DHS, Customs and Border Patrol agents apprehended her and her father November 6th, along with a group of migrants turning themselves into the U.S. agents. It was there DHS says her father first told the agents her daughter was not in good health. He does not speak English.

The father and daughter waited for hours before boarding the bus to a nearby border station. DHS says on the way to New Mexico 95 miles away the girl ran a high fever and started vomiting. At one point she stopped breathing.

Agents revived her and called ahead for emergency medical help. Just over an hour after reaching the border station she was airlifted to providence children's hospital in El Paso, Texas, 160 miles away. Her father traveled there separately.

The girl suffered cardiac arrest in the hospital, was revived but did not recover. She died on the morning of December 8th. The coroner has not ruled on her cause of death.

NIELSEN: This family chose to cross illegally. What happened here they were about 90 miles away from where we could process them. We gave immediate care. We'll continue to look into the situation. But again, I cannot stress how dangerous this journey is when migrants choose to come here illegally.

HOGAN GIDLEY, WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: Does the administration take responsibility for a parent taking a child on a trek through Mexico to get to this country?

No.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): Not far from this hospital in El Paso, the group Border Network for Human Rights takes issue with the Trump administration blaming the girl's father.

FERNANDO GARCIA, BORDER NETWORK FOR HUMAN RIGHTS: This is not the America that we believe, that we used to believe, is. The militarization of the border, this situation is going to come and haunt the rest of our society. This is not what America is about. LAVANDERA: The Department of Homeland Security inspector general says it will launch an internal investigation and the findings of that report will be made public. But critics are also wondering why it took DHS more than a week to talk about the death of this young girl and those critics are wondering why it took a news report to bring this story to light -- Ed Lavandera, CNN, El Paso, Texas.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VANIER: Millions of Americans may find themselves without health care if a judge's ruling is upheld.

[02:25:00]

VANIER: Could it be a last stand for ObamaCare?

Stay with us.

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VANIER: You're watching CNN NEWSROOM. Let's look at your headlines this hour.

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VANIER: I want to take a closer look at our top story this hour. A U.S. judge has struck down the Affordable Care Act. It was President Barack Obama's signature piece of legislation. It brought health care to millions. It also brought the wrath of conservatives, who have been trying for --

[02:30:00]

VANIER: -- years to dismantle it.

Let's bring in Peter Mathews, political science professor at Cypress College.

Donald Trump promised to repeal and replace ObamaCare.

Do you think a judge in Texas could be the one who ends up fulfilling at least the first part of that promise, repeal?

PETER MATHEWS, CYPRESS COLLEGE: Well, the repeal, yes. But there'll be a Supreme Court hearing later on and that'll be the final decision. There's two different philosophies here.

One is, is health care a human right that should be guaranteed for all, as one side believes?

The other side believes it's an individual privilege that you have to earn individually. So it's a whole different clash of opinions here on what the foundation of the health care issue is. Very important to note that.

VANIER: Yes, so you're telling me about the politics of it. But it could end up decided as a legal matter. It already has been by the Supreme Court. And the legal argument in court, to your point, is actually totally different from the politics of it and how you look at health care and whether it should be free market based or a right for everyone.

So it could end up being just a legal issue.

MATHEWS: That's true because the legal issue has to do with the individual mandate, which turns on the question of the tax cuts of 2017 that Trump brought in. And those tax cuts eliminated the penalty for not having health insurance.

And the court decided that, because of that, the individual mandate is no longer valid and, therefore, Congress can no longer stand on it because that was a tax. Twice before that, this Affordable Care Act was upheld, once by Chief Justice Roberts, actually being the deciding vote, saying that the individual mandate is valid because it's a type of tax. So it allowed Congress to fund it.

It was actually a technical issue, you're right about that.

(CROSSTALK)

VANIER: But now the tax, it's disappeared. It's been taken down to zero in the new tax law. And that was the basis for the legal argument of the Texas judge, saying, if it's zero then it's not a tax and therefore it becomes illegal. That's his argument.

I want to read for you the president's tweet.

"As I predicted all along, ObamaCare as been struck down as an unconstitutional disaster. Now Congress must pass a strong law that provides great health care and protects pre-existing conditions. Mitch and Nancy, get it done."

So here's my question. Is this -- is this a boon for the president?

Is this what he's wanted all along?

Or is it actually going to get him stuck in a rut because the law could fall and if he doesn't have a replacement then he's going to own that?

MATHEWS: The latter. That's exactly the way to put it, very well done. The president is going to be in big trouble if the entire law does continue to be struck down because millions will have to give up their health care and it'll create a disaster in the economics of the health care system.

The president only wanted to strike down the portion of the -- what's called preexisting condition guarantee, one of the key parts of the law. But he may just have the whole baby thrown out with the bathwater. That's a real problem for him. VANIER: OK. But the counter argument is, perhaps, perhaps this Congress, counter intuitively, may be a better Congress to work with than the previous one because the Democrats may want to keep some form of health law that they like?

And the senators in -- the Republican senators are more moderate than the Republican congressman were before, so maybe they can agree with a Democratic win.

MATHEWS: It's very possible they could come up with a compromise and, for sure, the House is much more progressive on this now because they have 40 new members, 40-seat lead with a Democratic lead and it could happen. And in that case, they could get the Republican Senate maybe to compromise.

But I think what's going to have to happen, Cyril, is --

(CROSSTALK)

VANIER: By the way, potentially, if that happens, that would be a huge political success, wouldn't it?

MATHEWS: It would be a success, certainly.

But the thing is, can they get it done?

Could they evolve an alternative system, where there's a momentum now, for a single payer universal health care system, a public insurance company, that I think a lot of Democrats are pushing in the House.

Let's see if that can come into fruition. It may take a couple of years, though because the Republicans do dominate the Senate, as we know.

VANIER: And I see another danger on the horizon politically, which is -- and we saw it already manifest itself in the midterms. Democrats already used this issue and they used it to good effect. They won lots of seats in the House, campaigning on health care. They could do that again in 2020.

MATHEWS: That's right, especially when the pre-existing condition part gets taken up. People will start feeling that; millions will feel it. And if the whole system collapses, then it'll be a big issue that will hurt the Republicans in the 2020 election overall.

Because most Americans, by the way, 75 percent of Americans support guaranteeing pre-existing conditions coverage. And that's a lot of people. Even 15 percent of the Republicans support it.

So this a losing side that the Trump administration is on and so are the Republicans in the Senate, on the wrong side and in the House as well, on this one.

VANIER: Well, and Donald Trump appears to be one of those 75 percent, because he wants Congress also to defend and guarantee pre-existing conditions. I'm just reading his tweet here. That's what he wants. That's his political objective. He's asking --

[02:35:00]

VANIER: -- Congress to get it done. We'll see if it happens. Peter Mathews, thank you for joining us.

MATHEWS: Let's see. Thank you so much.

VANIER: Donald Trump changing his story about an alleged hush money scheme again. This after his former attorney accused him of lying about the payments. We'll have a look at the president's evolving explanations when we come back.

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VANIER: Donald Trump is facing new scrutiny over his involvement in hush money payments to two women who allege affairs with him. After his former lawyer accused Mr. Trump of ordering the payments, the president and his legal team are trying to change their story once again. Brian Todd breaks things down for us.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The hush money payments to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal may once have seemed embarrassing personally to President Trump, but tonight they now threaten to harm him legally.

Experts say that may be why the president's story keeps changing, going from, I didn't know to it's not my fault to it's not illegal.

In a new interview with ABC, Trump's former lawyer, Michael Cohen, says Trump absolutely directed him to make the payments to Daniels and McDougal and did it with a specific purpose in mind, winning the presidency.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COHEN: He was very concerned about how this would affect the election.

STEPHANOPOULOS: To help his campaign?

COHEN: To help him and the campaign.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD (voice-over): That, experts say, would be a violation of campaign finance law, which may be why the president is blaming his lawyer for bad advice, tweeting Thursday morning, "I never directed Michael Cohen to break the law. He was a lawyer and he is supposed to know the law." But that argument hardly lasted half a day because just hours after tweeting that, Trump told FOX News Cohen barely did legal work for him.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HARRIS FAULKNER, FOX NEWS HOST: That was his title, a fixer.

TRUMP: Very low level work. He did more public relations than he did law.

FAULKNER: Why did you need him then?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD: But back in April, the president had a different view of Cohen on Air Force One when he denied knowing about the --

[02:40:00]

TODD (voice-over): -- Stormy Daniels payment.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CATHERINE LUCEY, ASSOCIATED PRESS: Mr. President, did you know about the $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels?

TRUMP: No, no. What else?

LUCEY: Then why -- why did Michael Cohen make this, if there was no truth to her allegations?

TRUMP: Well, you have to ask Michael Cohen. Michael is my ... an attorney. You have to ask Michael.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD (voice-over): In August, his story changed again when Trump was asked by, yes, another FOX News anchor if he knew about the payments.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Later on I knew, later on. But you have to understand, Ainsley, what he did -- and they weren't taken out of campaign finances.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD (voice-over): Experts say that argument may not hold water, especially because the president according to a source was at a meeting in august of 2015 discussing hush money payments with Cohen and David Pecker, the CEO of the " National Enquirer's" parent company.

TODD (on camera): Does it give him an out to say that, I knew about it later? LARRY NOBLE, CAMPAIGN FINANCE, ETHICS EXPERT: No, it doesn't give him an out that he knew about it later. Once he knew about it, he was -- he was party to the violation.

TODD (voice-over): Another shift in the story comes from Trump's legal adviser Rudy Giuliani. On May 2nd, Giuliani told Fox that Cohen who took out a personal home equity line to pay for Stormy Daniels' silence was paid back by Trump.

RUDY GIULIANI, TRUMP ATTORNEY: The president reimbursed it.

TODD (on camera): The reimbursement comment, is that an admission that he knew about the payments earlier?

NOBLE: Yes. That's an admission that he knew about it earlier. Why would Trump reimburse him if he didn't know about the payment?

TODD (voice-over): In that same interview, Giuliani suggested that paying Cohen back meant Trump hadn't violated campaign finance laws.

GIULIANI: That money is not campaign money. I'm giving you a fact you don't know. It is not campaign money. No campaign finance violation. So --

SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS HOST: They funneled it through the law firm?

GIULIANI: -- funneled through the law firm and the president repaid it.

TODD: Experts say the repayment of Cohen which prosecutors say came in the form of fake retainer payments to him from the Trump Organization still means there are probably campaign violations and may have violated other laws, too.

That maybe why Trump suggested another version of the story on Thursday when he denied paying back media conglomerate AMI, that parent company of the "National Enquirer," for its role in hush money payments to McDougal.

TRUMP: I don't think they even paid any money to that tabloid, OK?

I don't think we made a payment to that tabloid.

NOBLE: By not paying them back, you have a straight-out corporate contribution to the campaign.

TODD: In fact, it may make it worse, all of which experts say begs the question, are all of these shifting stories taken as a whole a crime?

NOBLE: To support the idea that he has committed crimes, whether it is the knowing and willful violation because he's trying to hide it, showing he knows there's something wrong here. And it also can be an element of obstruction of justice, that he is trying to influence other witnesses, if he is trying to influence the jury with lies. TODD: But experts caution that there's also the possibility of all these shifting stories in totality may not prove obstruction of justice simply because we don't know everything that Trump and his legal team have told the prosecutors.

And they say that Trump and his team could make the case that the president was confused about the law, confused about what obstruction really means, even though he's always had lawyers to tell him that -- Brian Todd, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VANIER: CNN political analyst and former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti joins me now.

Let's start by analyzing that, this idea that Trump could plead ignorance. In other words, he didn't know the law so he can't have broken it.

RENATO MARIOTTI, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Generally speaking, ignorance of the law is not a defense. But in some very rare circumstances, for example, when someone is being charged with an offense related to the tax code or the campaign finance laws, in order to criminally punish the person, they had to have known they were breaking the law.

So for example, if you just, in your taxes, if you maybe claimed a deduction you weren't supposed to, as long as you didn't know you were doing something unlawful, you might get audited, you might have to pay some money but you won't go to prison. That's the idea here.

But there's some pretty good evidence that would point to the fact that the president did know this was unlawful. I suspect prosecutors would be pointing to that evidence as they continue to make their case.

VANIER: Yes, and he was surrounded by lawyers. This happened during the campaign in the final closing stretch of the presidential campaign. He was surrounded by lawyers. I would assume that would factor in.

What is Donald Trump's best defense in this particular matter, I mean, the matter of the actual payments to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal?

MARIOTTI: I think the best defense is going to be the one we just spoke about. He's going to say that, because Michael Cohen was a lawyer and he was involved, that he assumed it must have been legal because there's no way a lawyer would have gotten involved in something --

[02:45:00]

MARIOTTI: -- if it was illegal. The problem for him is that Cohen wasn't really acting as a lawyer in this situation. It's not like Trump went to Cohen for legal advice. You know, he was a fixer, he was dealing with the situation. I think

it would be hard for Trump to claim, as he did I think on Twitter the other day, that this is an advice of counsel defense. That's one, for example, my clients come to me and they say, what's your advice on something?

And they follow my advice and they get in trouble. This isn't a situation like that. Here is the fixer, you know, creating shell companies and funneling payments and creating false statements in the books and records of the president's company. It's just very hard to see this as rendering legal advice.

VANIER: Something else; our sources tell us that special counsel Robert Mueller would still like to interview the president. And it's about Donald Trump's state of mind when he did certain things that are being investigated as possible obstruction of justice.

Why does state of mind matter in that regard?

MARIOTTI: So in that context, if you're trying to prove obstruction of justice, a prosecutor has to prove that the person acted with what's called a corrupt intent so a very specific sort of intent.

And the idea is that, you know, for example, it's lawful for the president to fire the FBI director if the president thinks he's doing a bad job. You can always fire somebody for poor performance. But if you fire somebody with a purpose of undermining a lawful investigation, then that is a corrupt intent.

And that's really what --

(CROSSTALK)

VANIER: Couldn't Donald Trump just say that was not my intention?

I wasn't doing this in order to obstruct justice or impede the Russia investigation, I was doing this because I thought that James Comey was a bad FBI director?

MARIOTTI: No question he could say that. And then what Robert Mueller would do is follow up with additional questions.

Well, what about when you told Lester Holt something different?

What about this e-mail, what about this tweet?

What about your anger at attorney general Sessions for recusing himself?

You know, all of these times, when the president has said things that sure looked like he wants to shut down or undermine or cut short the investigation.

VANIER: One more thing, Michael Cohen has been sentenced, Michael Flynn is about to be sentenced.

What does that tell us where Robert Mueller is in his investigation?

Does that mean he's wrapping things up?

MARIOTTI: I'd say that he's finishing certain pieces of the investigation. But as we saw in the Flynn sentencing memorandum, there's a huge blacked-out portion, there's at least one case left to go there.

And the Michael Cohen sentencing memorandum, the special counsel's office was very cagey about what more Cohen could do, what his cooperation could yield.

And similarly when they were in open court in New York, the prosecutor who worked for Bob Mueller was very, very vague about exactly what Cohen had done. So suggested to me that there's still some bombshells left to fall here.

VANIER: And that's a good point with the redactions. There appear to be some entire areas of legal interest we're just not privy to. So worth keeping in mind. Renato Mariotti, thank you so much for joining us.

MARIOTTI: Thank you.

VANIER: And France is bracing for another weekend of protests that could rock Paris and other parts of the country. When we return, why some protesters say the concessions made this week by President Macron are still not enough.

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VANIER: This just into CNN: Pakistan says it's facilitating talks between the U.S. and the Afghan Taliban on Monday. Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan said the U.S. made the request. A spokesperson for the U.S. embassy in Islamabad says Pakistan is fundamental to the Afghan peace process.

To France now. France is bracing for a fifth weekend of Yellow Vest protests throughout the country. President Emmanuel Macron has calling for a return to calm and order. He also made concessions earlier this week by canceling the fuel tax that sparked the protests in the first place and promising to raise the minimum wage.

But many say it is still not enough and they plan to keep on demonstrating. Our Ben Wedeman reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The honking is not Gallic annoyance, just a friendly show of support for the Gilets Jaunes or Yellow Vest protesters at Les Andelys roundabout in rural Normandy, northwest of Paris.

Jacques (ph), an 85-year-old pensioner explains why he backs the protests.

"Because my pension is melting in the sun," he tells me, "there's nothing left."

And what does he want from President Macron?

"To get lost," he replies.

WEDEMAN (on camera): This is the other side of the Gilets Jaunes protests. At hundreds of roundabouts across the country, every day all day long there are people out speaking to drivers, making their message clear. And there's none of the drama and tension of Saturdays in Paris.

WEDEMAN (voice-over): The atmosphere is upbeat. They've put up a sign on their shelter, Elysee, after the official resident of the French president, and have draped yellow vests over a fence that surrounds a castle built by Richard the Lionheart 820 years that looms over the roundabout.

Supporters provide the protestors with food and firewood; lunch on this day is barbecued sausages and baguettes.

Thirty-three-year-old Amandine Laplanche lost her part-time job caring for handicapped children last August and spoke to us just before she headed out to join the protest. She's been a regular since they began a month ago.

[02:55:00]

WEDEMAN (voice-over): "I think the politicians are truly disconnected from people of limited means and people in rural areas," she says. "We're really forgotten."

With the Gilets Jaunes, she's found solidarity, support and friendship.

"It really brings us together," says Amandine.

The protests were sparked by anger over proposed increases to fuel taxes, now scrapped. But they've taken on a life of their own.

Did President Macron's Monday speech make a difference?

"He said crap," says Patricia (ph). "He said things that don't interest us at all. We want him to reduce taxes, raise the minimum wage and pensions."

So they'll brave the cold and carry on -- Ben Wedeman, CNN, Les Andelys, France.

(END VIDEOTAPE) VANIER: And we'll go live to Paris next hour, as those protests will be getting underway. You're watching live pictures of one of the main arteries in Central Paris, the Champs-Elysees. If you've visited the French capital, you have been there. We'll take a look next hour. All right, you're watching CNN, the world's news leader. Stay with us. We've got more news at the top of the hour.