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Trump Attacks Probe As Legal Threats Surround Him From Every Angle; Former Adviser Michael Flynn To Be Sentenced This Week; Giuliani Slams Michael Cohen: "The Man Is Pathetic"; W.H.: "Absolutely" Will Shut Down Government To Get Border Wall; Schumer: Trump "Not Going To Get The Wall In Any Form"; Trump Celebrates Judge's Ruling Against Obamacare; Zinke Resigns Amid Multiple Ethics Investigations; Trump Names Budget Director Mulvaney As Acting Chief of Staff; First Transgender Contestant In Miss Universe Pageant Competes For Crown Tonight. Aired 3-4p ET

Aired December 16, 2018 - 15:00   ET


[15:00] ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: President Trump angry and on the attack today as legal threats continue to swirl all around him, nearly every aspect of his life under investigation. Just look at that. Family members is in a circle, the campaign, his administration, the list goes on and on. And now, we're bracing for the next round of Russia probe revelations.

The first, former National Security Michael Flynn -- the national security adviser, rather, Michael Flynn will learn his fate this week in a sentencing on Tuesday. His cooperation in the probe helped to give prosecutors some of it a road map for the investigation.

And as the President continues to attack the probe, there's a new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll that's giving us a stunning look at what a majority of Americans think about the probe. 62 percent say that the President has not been truthful about the Russian investigation. The President has been lashing out on Twitter and we have something of a fact check.

Now, he is calling his former Attorney Michael Cohen a rat and said that the FBI broke into his office. That's not true. The FBI executed court approved search warrants. And Trump also says that the Russian investigation was "illegally started". That's also not true. The Justice Department appointed and authorized Robert Mueller as special counsel as well as four separate federal judges who upheld that.

And this morning, the President's lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, also weighing in trying to throw doubt onto all of those legal threats. So for more, let's check in with CNN's White House Correspondent Boris Sanchez. Boris, what have we heard from Giuliani today?

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hey, there Alexander. Yes, Rudy Giuliani is on the offensive going after the President's former attorney, calling Michael Cohen pathetic and a liar as well. At one point during this interview, Giuliani said that he could line up 20 witnesses who would testify that those hush-money payments to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal were not campaign contributions.

Of course, keep in mind that Michael Cohen and part of all the charges that he plead guilty too, two of them were the campaign finance violations specifically because of these payments. He also went on to say that to believe Cohen's allegations about the President, the only way to do that is to trust him and take him at his word.

That's simply not the case. The Southern District of New York was able to corroborate some of Cohen's claims and we know that AMI, the company that owns the National Enquirer, the paper that helped to facilitate the killing of those stories and those allegations about affairs that the President had also corroborated part Cohen's story.

Overall, Giuliani is essentially saying that we shouldn't trust Michael Cohen, that he is not believable even though the President previously had referred to his former attorney as a good man. Here's more from Rudy Giuliani on ABC this morning.


RUDY GIULIANI, TRUMP'S ATTORNEY: He's a lawyer. He is the guy you depend on to determine whether or not you should do it this way or that way. Whether you're Donald Trump or you're me or you, I have the lawyers --

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: But he is the saying the President knew it was wrong. He directed him to do any of that.

GIULIANI: Well, the President says that's false and he said it was false under oath. He said it was false in his tape recorded conversation with Chris Cuomo. He said it was false on five other tape recording conversations. He said on those tape recorded conversations that he did it on his own to start and then he brought it to the President. And then the President reimbursed it.

Clear as a bell, under oath must have said it 10 times. OK, now he says the opposite. You're going to tell me which is the truth. I think I know what the truth is, but unless you are God, this man, you will never know what the truth is. He lies.


SANCHEZ: Another important point here, Alex, Giuliani was asked specifically about CNN reporting that the special counsel was still interested in interviewing the President that's in spite of those written answers the President provided to the special counsel sometime last month.

Giuliani said that he couldn't specifically comment on that issue on that reporting, but he did leave the door open in a way saying that as part of the agreement between the President's attorneys and the special counsel, there is still time to discuss possibly further questions that Robert Mueller may have for President Trump, Alex.

MARQUARDT: Yes, something that President and his lawyer have ruled out at that in person interview. Boris Sanchez, thanks very much.

Now, despite Cohen sentencing, so many Congress are calling for him to testify on Capitol Hill. Here is what some had to say today on "CNN State of the Union."


ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D), MARYLAND: We should always reconsider laws and regulation, so this is one. We definitely should reconsider. But let me say this too, I'm hoping that Mr. Cohen will come before the Congress where he can tell the American public exactly what he has been saying to Mueller and others without interfering with the Mueller investigation.

I think the American people just voted for transparency and integrity in our hearings. They want to hear from him. And I certainly would like to see him come in the month of January to -- before the Congress and so that people's representatives will have an opportunity to ask him questions.

SUSAN COLLINS (R), MAINE: Let me point out that there are a lot of unanswered ethical legal and factual questions, but clearly this was not a good week for President Trump, nor for his campaign organization and these allegations are concerning.

[15:05:11] But we need to wait until we have the entire picture and that's why it's so critical that the special counsel be allowed to complete his investigation unimpeded so that we can have the full picture.


MARQUARDT: So joining me now to dig in to all of this, our former FBI Assistant Director and CNN Senior Law Enforcement Analyst Tom Fuentes as well as Defense Attorney and CNN Legal Analyst Ross Garber.

Ross, first to you. You've heard there members of Congress saying that they want to hear from Michael Cohen and others. If the Senate Intelligence Committee hears from those former Trump associates, we could hear from Manafort, Flynn or Cohen, before they head to prison, so when they do head to prison, does that affect the probe or -- the Mueller probe or is that separate? Is that the Senate asking there own questions and what purpose that would be?

ROSS GARBER, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It may or may not affect the probe. I think what we'd expect to see is for the Senate Intel Committee, the senators and the staffs to coordinate any questioning they want to do with Mueller and any other investigative agencies to make sure they don't step on the toes of the investigation because on the one hand, Congress actually does have an independent function. It's up to Congress to exercise its oversight authority over the presidency. On the other hand, I'm sure they're not going to wanted interfere in the investigations. MARQUARDT: And there was a fascinating moment this week with the Flynn lawyers in the court with Robert Mueller's team. Both sides had agreed that Michel Flynn doesn't deserve any prison time, but Flynn's lawyers seem to raise the eye (ph), if you will, of the Mueller team by accusing them of pulling a fast one on him, essentially when the FBI agents went to interview him saying that they didn't warn him that lying to FBI agents was illegal.

So, what will you be watching for in this sentencing that's due to take place on Tuesday? Do you think that that moment on Friday is actually going to affect the sentence?

GARBER: So, you know, I've the Michael sentencing -- the Michael Flynn sentencing memo over and over. And here's what I think happened. What they essentially did was they said we agree with the government's characterization. Remember, the government said, you know, Michael Flynn cooperate and he shouldn't get any jail time.

So what Flynn's lawyers did in their sentencing memo is said, we agree with the government, we agree with their characterization, but either way you judge, by the by, you should know that, you know, Michael Flynn wasn't, you know, did -- wasn't accompanied by a lawyer and wasn't warned about the consequences for his lying. Essentially not trying to make a big deal about it, but still it was there and I think the government thought they needed to respond and did respond.

I think it's all going to turn out to be a whole lot of nothing because nothing really came of it. I think what we should look for in the sentencing hearing is to see how smoothly it goes. And I think, you know, we should expect Michael Flynn to not get jail time.

On the other hand, in federal sentencing, it is up to the judge to decide how much time somebody gets and it is entirely possible the judge could disagree with the recommendation of the government and give Michael Flynn a little jail time. I think that's what to look for.

MARQUARDT: And for what it's worth, Michael Flynn's lawyer said have asked for probation of less than a year and 200 hours of community service, so we'll see if that has any effect.


MARQUARDT: Tom, to you, we talked a lot about that the prospects of a sit down interview between the Mueller team and the President. Of course the President has submitted written answers to written questions. You've heard that the President repeatedly say -- the President and his team repeatedly say that he is not willing to sit down for an interview, now, Rudy Giuliani saying, over my dead body. What do you think the likelihood of that happening? Is -- could you see a subpoena from Robert Mueller?

TOM FUENTES, CNN SENIOR LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, it's questionable whether a subpoena would be effective, you know, against the President, whether he can even be issued a subpoena --


FUENTES: -- you know by a special counsel on this situation, so that's also debatable. But I think that, you know, the President just kind of does what he wants to do. So I think he may ignore all the advice of his attorneys which they would extraneously say what Giuliani said over my dead body do not do it. It's a trap. You know, it won't go well. Don't do it.

And whether he still decides that he's smart enough to outwit Mueller and go ahead and do it, we'll wait and see. But I doubt -- I tend to doubt that he is going to it, but this President you don't know, he might.

MARQUARDT: And then, of course, before that happens there could be another round of written questions that the President would answer.

FUENTES: There could be. There could be.

MARQUARDT: Another major part of this, especially when it comes to Michael Cohen, is about the Trump Tower Moscow deal and how much the President knew and when, specifically when he was running for president. Let's take a listen to what Rudy Giuliani said about what the President knew to that earlier today.


[15:10:02] STEPHANOPOULOS: Did Donald Trump know that Michael Cohen was pursuing that Trump Tower in Moscow into the summer of 2016?

GIULIANI: According to the answer that he gave, it would have covered all the way up to November of -- couple of November 2016. He said he had conversations with him, but President hides this. They know --

STEPHANOPOULOS: So earlier they has said those conversations stopped in January 2016.

GIULIANI: I don't -- I mean, the date -- I mean, what -- until you actually sit down and answer the questions and you go back and you look at the papers and you look at the trend, you're not going to know what happened. That's why lawyers, you know, prepare for those answers.


MARQUARDT: Ross, the reason Giuliani said -- mentioned November 2016 there is because after that that became the transition period and they've been arguing that's protected by executive privilege. But assuming the President knew about or was getting updates about the Trump Tower in Moscow deal well into the campaign, June, perhaps beyond, what is the legal significance of that and what Giuliani said today?

GARBER: I think that's the big question. I mean, it is true that during the campaign and afterward that the notion was that those discussions ended in January. Michael Cohen now said they continued until at least June of 2016, which by the way was when the Trump Tower meeting happened in New York.

And now Rudy Giuliani saying, well, they certainly ended by November of 2016, which is when the election happened. That is the real question is when did they end? Why did they end? And why were there misstatements about it?

MARQUARDT: Well, we also see the President attacking the FBI on Twitter saying in correctly that it broke into Michael Cohen's office. You see the tweet right there. When an actual fact the FBI agents were executing a court approved search warrant. And this is a line that we've heard before.

Tom, what's the harm both in general but also to the FBI and law enforcement when they see the President, you know, bluntly lying about this?

FUENTES: Well, I think from my perspective the problem in this whole case has been that, yes, the President is making these, you know, comments about the FBI and has been doing so in the past that the FBI was engaged in wrong-doing. But the problem is these investigations into the activities, Comey, McCabe, and Strzok, show that the FBI was doing wrong-doing.


FUENTES: And that's pretty clear to the point they were fired.


FUENTES: And so you have the Inspector General Horowitz basically saying that all of these individuals were engaged in, you know, this very bad activity. They lied to them self. So a problem in this case, whether you talk about any individual at any level who didn't lie --


FUENTES: -- including the good guys.


FUENTES: The good guys are not supposed to lie. That goes the FBI agents that were pursuing Trump and the allegations in this case, going after Flynn and going after Cohen --


FUENTES: -- they should not lie either and that's where --

MARQUARDT: But this is also -- this is a very basic lie as well. I mean, the FBI just didn't break into his office. I mean, that was --

FUENTES: No, that's just a mischaracterization.

MARQUARDT: Right. FUENTES: Yes, it was a search warrant and technically in doing a search warrant, if they don't open the door, you could break it sometime.


FUENTES: You know, I don't think they did. But -- so, yes, that's just way some people would refer to that as breaking in but --


FUENTES: -- but certainly it was a legal search warrant in any event.

MARQUARDT: Certainly, a loose use of those words. Tom Fuentes, Ross Garber, thanks so much for joining me.

Now, with a potential government shut down now just days away, both sides of the issue are not backing down. Why the White House says it will do everything necessary to secure a border wall, including shutting down the government?


[15:17:46] MARQUARDT: There is an urgent problem with no immediate sign of a solution. The federal government is set to run out of money on Friday and Republicans and Democrats are again stuck. Now that sticking point, the President's border wall. Some Republicans want a two-week stopgap funding measure to buy more negotiating time, the White House does not.


STEPHEN MILLER, SENIOR ADVISER TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: We're going to do whatever is necessary to build the border wall to stop this ongoing crisis of illegal immigration.


MILLER: This is a very -- if it comes to it, absolutely. This is a very fundamental issue. At stake is the question of whether or not the United States remains a sovereign country, whether or not we can establish and enforce rules for entrance into our country.

The Democrat Party is a simple choice. They can either choose to fight for America's working class or to promote illegal immigration. You can't do both.


MARQUARDT: Whatever is necessary, the White House says. Now, the top Democrat in the Senate this morning sounded equally unwilling to bend.


CHUCK SCHUMER (D), MINORITY LEADER: President Trump should understand that there are not the votes for the wall in the House or the Senate. He is not going to get the wall in any form.


MARQUARDT: Joining me now, our former Democratic Governor of Michigan Jennifer Granholm and Senior Political Correspondent for the Washington Examiner David Drucker.

David, let me start with you. Our Phil Mattingly on Capitol Hill is saying that if the administration is ready to kick that the border wall can down the road that they wouldn't have sent Steven Miller out there on the Sunday show this is morning. How dug in do you think this White House is on getting the border wall funded?

DAVID DRUCKER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it's really hard to tell, Alex, because this President changes his mind from minute to minute. We think there's a deal, all of a sudden there is no deal. He is going to shut government down. He doesn't want to shut the government down. And I think that's because the President operates on instinct. And so I think we're going to have to see where he is later this week. What we do know is that Democrats do not feel any political motivation --


DRUCKER: -- to try and deliver on what the President is asking for and the Republican simply don't have the votes. They don't have the votes in the House to do a Republican only bill with $5 billion for the border wall.

And when Chuck Schumer looks at the 2018 elections even though the Democrats did not win back the Senate, he won two seats, one in Arizona, one in Nevada. You have a lot of Hispanics there. Immigration is a very big issue there. You look at the House, they won 40 seats.

[15:20:04] And so as far as Democrats are concerned, the President's rhetoric and his policies do not work politically and so they don't feel like they have anything to fear. Now, I think part of this might be the fact that a lot of voters when they hear President Trump talk about the border wall and immigration are conflating his rhetoric with those policies. So even though -- if we look at these policies in a stand alone measure --


DRUCKER: -- they're going to do better for Republicans if you can take Trump out of it. You can't take Trump out of it, it reminds me of health care with President Obama when the Obamacare was unpopular, and therefore still may I think unless President Trump moves.

MARQUARDT: OK. Governor Granholm, let's listen to what Senator Dick Durbin had to say morning quickly.


SEN. DICK DURBIN (D), ILLINOIS: It's entirely in the hands of President Donald Trump and he bragged that this was his decision. I will shut it down, he said. You know, if -- I don't believe I can get my wall, my $5 billion see the shining sea wall.


MARQUARDT: So, Governor, as you hear there, Democrats are confident that the President will own the blame for this potential shut down. Do you see that dynamic holding and do you think it's a smart strategy?

JENNIFER GRANHOLM (D), FORMER MICHIGAN GOVERNOR: Well, you know, the President has said basically I'm willing to take this on, sending out Steve Miller this morning, reinforcing that I'm willing to own the shut down because he thinks it's a good political fight. But, honestly, you look at the polling numbers on this and it's really quite astounding. I mean 69 percent of Americans don't think this is -- it should be a priority of Congress.

57 percent say Trump should be compromising with the Democrats over this. 60 percent of Americans don't even want a wall. So, this is really a cruddy issue to shut the government down on if you choose to do that, honestly, I think what's the Congress is going to do.

And David, I'll be interest in your opinion on this because you're right there in D.C., but from my experience as a former governor working with a reluctant legislature, I think that the most likely outcome is a punt to the next Congress.

You got all of these members of Congress who lost in the House and who aren't even showing up for votes and this would be a super hard vote, so why would they come back in town to do that?

I don't know. I think it's leaning towards a punt to the next Congress and if they do that, then Trump would be super smart to offer a compromise in the House similar to the compromise that the Gang of Eight passed in the Senate in 2013 on a Comprehensive Immigration Reform Bill.

MARQUARDT: David, your thoughts?

DRUCKER: Well, look, I think the President had two years to try and deal with this on a comprehensive fashion in and for some reason he chose not to, which I think is really interesting given that immigration was a signature issue.

He said he wanted to own a shut down. He sends Steven Miller out there, his number one immigration restriction as any administration to say that the President is not going to back down. So if the President backs down later this week, I think that it's going to signal the Democrats that they can really take the offensive in negotiations in January.

One thing will change though in January. Democrats will run the House and they're going to be responsible for getting the government open on a compromised basis with the President. So it's not going to be as easy for them to say no and then just say it's up to Republicans because they're running everything and that will change some of the tenor of these negotiations. But, you know, we all know in terms of the politics of this, it depends on who the public blames. But governor is right --


DRUCKER: -- they're pulling on this in the after action report. The midterm election shows that the President's rhetoric and policies did not inspire votes and that's why I think that the Democrats are on the offensive. They feel like they're in the right position here.

MARQUARDT: All right. Switch gears to the Affordable Care Act, Obamacare. Governor Granholm, of course we saw on Friday a federal judge in Texas make a ruling that would dismantle, attempt to dismantle Obamacare. This is something that the President then celebrated on Twitter.

If we gained this out and assume that this gets to the Supreme Court, how do you do -- how do you see the court ruling, especially now that we have Neil Gorsuch but, Brett Kavanaugh on the court making it --


MARQUARDT: -- decidedly a conservative court.

GRANHOLM: Yes. I mean, well, let's take the first step. The first step is that it gets appealed to the Fifth Circuit.


GRANHOLM: The Fifth Circuit has 16 seats, 11 of which were appointed by Republican Presidents. Five of those 11 appointed by Donald Trump and the five appointed by Donald Trump are people who were very active on the Republican side before they were appointed, whether they were in governor's offices or on the Senate Judiciary Committee, et cetera.

So you're going to have -- those who say, like Susan Collins this morning was saying, oh, she thinks it's going to be overturned, I don't put any stock in that. Then you go to the Supreme Court. Now, it was Robert who -- along with other, four others said --


GRANHOLM: -- upheld the Affordable Care Act and those five are still on the bench.

[15:25:00] So, the question is what would happen? Honestly, I really feel like in something like this. You tell me who appointed you and I tell you what the outcome is going to be.

I don't think that Democrats should be feeling comfortable that this is just going to be overturned either at the Fifth Circuit level or at the Supreme Court. And by the way, if the Supreme Court gets this, the decision will happen in an election year 2020. So, that puts all the more pressure on Congress to actually come up with something. MARQUARDT: And, David, to that point, this is not necessarily becomes a partisan issue. We saw in the midterms that Republicans were less and less inclined to go out and attack Obamacare. There are a lot of Republican voters have realized how much it benefits them certainly when it comes to preexisting conditions.

So while you have the President out there on Twitter celebrating this, this is not necessarily something that Congressional Republicans are going to echo. What's the Republican play here?

DRUCKER: Yes, this is ironic, right, because 8 years after Obamacare cost Democrats control of the House, four years after it cost them control of the Senate, all of a sudden Obamacare works for Democrats and Republicans were on in the defense, particularly on the preexisting conditions issue and the other regulation in there prohibiting lifetime cuts on pay out. These two things have put Democrats in the drivers, you know, on healthcare.

And so there's going be more pressure now on the President and the Republican Senate to work with Democrats to try in do something about this. Unless this issue becomes the sort of back burner issue. And so as the governor was discussing, its surfaces in the courts down with appeals and we start to talk about it again.

But it puts the party in a very interesting position because the hardcore base is going to say no to anything that's max of Obamacare and yet swing voters, independent voters and soft Republicans are just as concerned as Democrats about these key issues, preexisting conditions and things like that. That's why health care is no longer a winning issue for Republicans if and until they can reorient this argument and try and get it back

MARQUARDT: And amid all this, it's not like there's another plan that Republicans are suggesting. When you look at the ruling, at least from the drive (ph) in Texas, that's -- it's essential just dismantling Obamacare, but it's not like anyone suggest anything else.

DRUCKER: Well, there are two different things here I mean that the legal issue of whether or not Obamacare is constitutional as one thing.


DRUCKER: There are different Republicans with the different plans. House Republicans did pass a bill that if the Senate had adopted, you would have had a reformed Obamacare health care system that would have only partially repealed Obamacare.

There was an argument over whether or not it maintained the preexisting conditions protections. But the point is, there are Republican plans to keep political issues heading in the 2020 is do voters like those plans.


DRUCKER: And do Republicans do and President Trump, in particular, do they do anything about them? Because this will be a really big issue in 2020 if Democrats can frame this as these protections that you have all decided you really like are going to go away if you reelect this guy, that could be a really big issue. It was a huge issue in the midterm elections.

I've talked to Republican strategists who have said in hindsight, they looked at the data and they got shellacked on the preexisting conditions issue. They should have held more votes to protect preexisting conditions, they didn't. So this issue is not going away and it could be a real problem for the GOP.

MARQUARDT: And, Governor, to that point, assuming this comes down, you know, that this is a huge campaign issue in 2020, are Democratic strategists now licking their chops because they thought this had gone away and now it's back on the table?

GRANHOLM: Well, let me just be clear. Nobody is licking their chops at the thought of 17 million people being without health care. But I will say this, that David is absolutely right, we all know that these midterms turned on this issue in large part in the suburbs.

This particular fear was the one that was trumpeted. Hey, there is a Texas lawsuit. That Texas lawsuit is going to eliminate preexisting conditions. There are 19 Republican attorneys general who have brought this lawsuit for this very purpose and look what happens.

Yes, immediately after the election happened, the judge rules exactly as Democrats had feared. It does exactly what re -- what people were afraid of when they went to the polls. And now, what are Republicans going to do about it? You see Trump tweeting how great this is that all of this people are losing preexisting conditions and essential benefits. This is not a winner for Republicans. This is got to be resolve and you better believe Democrats are going to be running on this issue of health care again.

MARQUARDT: All right, a great discussion. Governor Jennifer Granholm, David Drucker, thanks to both of you.

DRUCKER: Thank you.

MARQUARDT: We'll be right back.


(15:33:55) MARQUARDT: President Trump is once again railing against his one time friend and long time attorney and fixer, Michael Cohen. This morning, the President twitted, "Remember, Michael Cohen only became a rat after the FBI did something which was absolutely unthinkable and unheard of until the witch hunt was illegally started. They broke into an attorney's office."

Now, that's not true. The FBI executed a court approved search warrants as we've been saying. So, how did their relationship become so strained in the last few months? CNN's Gloria Borger has one.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIET POLITICAL ANALYST: Alex, no one could have predicted this story. The President's former lawyer and an enforcer, Michael Cohen, turns on his boss, decides to fess up to his own crimes and is sentenced to prison. It's been a long and winding road.


MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER ATTORNEY FOR DONALD TRUMP: So words the media should be using to describe Mr. Trump are generous --.

BORGER (voice-over): He was the ultimate loyalist --

COHEN: -- principled --

BORGER: -- protector and defender.

COHEN: -- kind, humble, honest, and genuine.

BORGER: The Trump fixer who said he would take a bullet for his idol, his boss.

COHEN: They say I'm Mr. Trump's pit bull, that I am his right hand man. I mean, there's -- that I've been called many different things around here.

[15:35:11] BORGER: Now in a plot twist worthy of Shakespeare, the fixer has slipped.

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

BORGER: Prosecutors say he has provided relevant and useful information on contacts with persons connected to the White House and his own conversations with individual number one, A.K.A. candidate Donald Trump to criminally influence the election. In more than 70 hours of interviews, Cohen confessed to his own financial crimes in past lives and stands to pay the price, three years in prison.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He's a weak person. I'm not a very smart person.

BORGER: A betrayed Trump says it's all a lie, the defeat only serving Cohen self interest.

TRUMP: Michael Cohen is lying and he's trying to get a reduced sentence.

BORGER: But, wait, just this past spring --

TRUMP: I always liked Michael and he's a good person.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The man is an honest honorable lawyer.

BORGER: So what changed Michael Cohen?

LANNY DAVIS, ADVISER TO MICHAEL COHEN: This man has turned the corner in his life, has hit a reset button and he is now dedicated to telling the truth.

BORGER: No longer dedicated to being Donald Trump's mini me as he was when he started working for the boss more than a decade ago.

SAM NUNBERG, TRUMP CAMPAIGN AIDE: Michael was -- I'd always like to say the Ray Donovan of the office. He took care of what had to be taken care of. I don't know what had to be taking care of, but all I know was that Michael was taking care of it.

DAVID SCHWARTZ, FRIEND OF MICHAEL COHEN: He is the guy that you could call at 3:00 in the morning when you have a problem.

BORGER (on camera): Do you have stories of Donald Trump calling him at 3:00 in the morning?

SCHWARTZ: Donald Trump has called him at all hours of the night.

BORGER (voice-over): He's not calling now because Cohen is singing, admitting negotiations about Trump Tower Moscow continued during the presidential campaign while Trump denied having any business interest in Russia and says he was in touch with Trump's lawyers and White House staff as he prepared the full statement to Congress.

And Cohen says as a direction of the candidate, he coordinated pay offs to women accusing Trump of sexual relations, even releasing a secret recording about one of them.

COHEN: When it comes time for the financing, which will be --

TRUMP: Wait a second, what financing?

BORGER: All part of the job.

COHEN: My job is -- I protect Mr. Trump. That's what it is. If there's an issue that relates to Mr. Trump that is of concern to him, it's of course concern to me. And I will use my legal skills within which to protect Mr. Trump to the best of my ability.

It's going to be my absolute pleasure to serve you with a $500 million lawsuit.

BORGER: Often with threat as in this 2015 conversation with the recorder.

COHEN: I'm warning you, tread very (INAUDIBLE) lightly, because what I'm going to do to you is going to be (INAUDIBLE) disgusting. Do you understand me?

MICHAEL D'ANTONIO, TRUMP BIOGRAPHER: This is also part of the Trump- Cohen method is you skate on the edge of what's reasonable and maybe even on the edge of what's ethical or legal.

BORGER: Cohen, a sometimes Democrat, first came to the Trump's attention after buying apartments in Trump developments, then went to the mat (ph) for Trump against one of his condo boards and won. SCHWARTZ: Trump loved him for it. I mean that was the beginning of it. And then after that they became close. It was much more than an attorney-client relationship. It was certain -- it was something much deeper, almost father and son kind of thing.

BORGER: For Trump, hiring Cohen wasn't a bad category. Cohen who was 52 got his degree from Western Michigan's Cooley Law School and eventually entered the less and gentile (ph) world of New York taxicab medallion.

NUNBERG: If you look where Michael came from in his legal carrier before he started working for Trump board, it wasn't like he came from a white shoe law firm, he came from, you know, a hard nose New York trial firm.

TRUMP: I will faithfully execute.

BORGER: But when Trump became president, he did not bring his brush wingman to Washington.

(on camera): Do you think he wanted to be in the White House to be White House counsel or --

D'ANTONIO: There must have been a part of him that was dreaming of a great job at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. But he's also the guy who'd not only knows where all the bodies are buried, he buried a lot of them himself, and that ironically disqualified him.

BORGER (voice-over): Maybe from working in the White House, but not from working with Bob Mueller.


BORGER: I'm told Cohen himself pushed for the sentencing now because he wants to get on with his life, but that doesn't mean he'll stop helping prosecutors as they continue to investigate the President. Alex?

[15:40:00] MARQUARDT: All right, thanks to Gloria Borger.

Now, after a week of speculation and rejection, President Trump still does not have a permanent replacement for his chief of staff. So how all this new round of turn over affect the administration, that's next.


MARQUARDT: As we end the year, the President is in the midst of even more staff changes and turn over. We saw yesterday, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announcing that he will be resigning by the end of the year. His departure comes as he faces a growing number of ethics investigations.

[15:45:05] That departure coming one day after President Trump announced that his budget director, Mick Mulvaney, will now become the acting chief of staff in the early part of next year replacing outgoing Chief of Staff John Kelly.

So with me more -- with me to discuss all of this more is our Zachary Wolf who is the Digital Director for CNN Politics.

Zack, part of the reason, if not the only reason that Zinke stepped down rather quickly was that he was facing so many ethics investigations and he said in a statement yesterday he didn't want to spend thousands of dollars on what he called falsehoods, essentially. So even though he is leaving the administration, it's not like his investigations are going to go away, right?

ZACHARY WOLF, CNN POLITICS DIGITAL DIRECTOR: Well, they won't go away. He is getting out, however, you know, before the New Year sort of one step ahead of the Democratic majority. They will come into power with a bunch of new investigative powers. Whether or not they will continue on investigating him with that new power, you know, there's a Justice Department element of this and you wouldn't think that necessarily goes away.

But as far as Democrats with their power to now investigate a lot more robustly, is there going to be an out of sight, out of mind kind of effect where they just move on to the new guy in confirmation hearings or is it going to be a little bit more of this backward looking thing? I think that remains to be seen. It would surprise me if they just let him go.

MARQUARDT: But, I mean, the Democrats are extremely -- seemingly excited to start getting to work in their capacity in oversight and having subpoena power and launching investigations. Do you think it's a wise move for them to kickoff the New Year by dragging Zinke back up to the Hill even though he's gone?

WOLF: You know, it's certainly something they're going to look to do. You know, there will be -- on a wide group of areas they will be looking to go back and sort of put the Trump administration's feet to the fire and this one in particular I think is one more they'll be looking.

MARQUARDT: Arguably the second most powerful person in any administration traditionally has been the chief of staff. That has been altered a little bit in this administration. We are now seeing the second chief of staff in as many years stepping down. John Kelly is leaving at the end of the year. We now see Mick Mulvaney, the head of the OMB coming in as acting chief of staff.

And the reason there are so many people's eyebrows being raced is because the President's first choice, Nick Ayers, who the Vice President's chief of staff, part of the reason those talks broke down is because he wanted to be acting and the President said, no. Now the President is saying, OK, Mick Mulvaney can be the acting chief of staff.

So, should we be attaching so much important to this? And Mulvaney is also trying to keep his old job. So he's going to keep heading up the OMB and to be the acting chief of staff. WOLF: Right. And OMB director, let's not get around, that's not like a part-time job and neither is being White House chief of staff. I mean, theoretically his job is to put order into the White House, in a Trump White House of all White Houses. That's going to be really hard to do.

Reince Priebus couldn't do it. John Kelly couldn't do it. Is Mick Mulvaney -- it seems like it's going to take all of his attention to be able to do that. Is this a sort of a tryout for him to get the job full time? It seems like he would do better at it if he didn't have this other job kind of hanging behind him. So, you know, that will certainly be interesting to see.

But let's also remember that all of the chaos at the White House has to do not only with the staffers or anybody else, it has to do with the guy at the top, Donald Trump. And I don't think he's going to be controlled by anybody.

MARQUARDT: It will be fascinating to watch. He has not caught from the same cloth as Reince Priebus and John Kelly, so it will be very interesting to see if he can bring that work to the White House and what the direction that White House goes in. Zachary Wolf, thanks so much for joining me.

WOLF: Thanks.

MARQUARDT: All right, well, it's history in the making. Tonight, a transgender woman is vying to become Miss Universe. Her long road to the world's biggest pageant, that's next.


[15:53:20] MARQUARDT: The co-founder of one of the world's most popular trivia games has died. An official tell CNN that HQ Trivia's CEO Colin Kroll was found dead this morning in New York. Police say Kroll, who is 34 years old, was found unconscious and unresponsive in his bedroom. Police were called to Kroll's home by his girlfriend after she requested that someone check on him.

Now for the first time, the Miss Universe pageant will feature an openly transgender contestant. She won the Miss Universe Spain title earlier this year and will now compete for the international title tonight. CNN's Natasha Chen has more.


NATASHA CHEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: From swimsuit to evening gown --

ANGELA PONCE, MISS SPAIN AND FIRST TRANSGENDER CONTESTANT FOR MISS UNIVERSE (through translator): For me, winning Miss Universe would give great pride.

CHEN: Quick changes for Spain's Angela Ponce will be nothing compared today the slow societal changes she's faced. Tonight, she'll be the first openly transgender woman to compete in the Miss Universe pageant.

PONCE (through translator): I started working in fashion 10 years ago. In the past three years, I started to compete in beauty contests. In 2015, I was provincial representative in Miss World Spain but the rules didn't allow me to get in the national competition.

CHEN: So Ponce turned to the Miss Universe organization, a pageant that already dealt with the question of transgender participants in 2012.

JENNA TALACKOVA, TRANSGENDER MISS UNIVERSE 2012 CONTESTANT: If it affected my score or performance, no. I was giving it my best so I'm very proud of myself.

CHEN: Canadian Jenna Talackova was initially told she was disqualified from the organization, Miss Canada pageant, because she was born male. But the pageant is co-owned at the time by Donald Trump came under scrutiny and subsequently ended it's (INAUDIBLE) on transgender contestant. Talackova did not end up winning the Canadian title.

[15:55:02] Now, six years later, Angela Ponce has won her competition in Spain and heads to the Miss Universe pageant in Thailand.

PONCE (through translator): I think the mind set is changing. Today there are positive references. People speak about the LGBT community and transgender community.

CHEN: Ponce appearing on stage is already historic.

PONCE (through translator): If I don't win, I get great friends and a unique experience.

CHEN (on camera): But if she does get that crown, Ponce says, this would also be a win for human rights. Natasha Chen, CNN.


MARQUARDT: All right, we have much more ahead in the CNN Newsroom but we have just a quick programming note. Don't forget to join CNN's Anderson Cooper and Andy Cohen as they co-host CNN's New Year's Eve coverage live from Time Square starting at 8:00 Eastern.