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CNN NEWSROOM

Comey Blasts Trump Over Tweet About FBI Raid Of Michael Cohen's Office; Car Crashes Into Montgomery Home Sunday Morning; Father of Guatemalan Girl Doesn't Blame Border Patrol for Her Death; New Report Shows Extent of Russia's Support for Trump Online. Aired 8-9p ET

Aired December 16, 2018 - 20:00   ET

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


[20:00:00] ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR: -- the hour, you are live in the CNN NEWSROOM. Hello on this Sunday. I'm Ana Cabrera in New York.

President Trump is spending much of his weekend today at least on the Internet posting on Twitter starting very early this morning in a tweet-storm, lashing out at what he called unfair news coverage. He didn't like "Saturday Night Live." He compared his and President Obama's border policies. He promoted his favorite news network and as always no collusion. And no less than five witch hunts in the space of just a few hours.

President Trump also adding a new word to his list of insults aimed at his former personal attorney and fixer Michael Cohen who has now flipped on the president and will soon start serving a three-year prison term.

This from the president today. Quote, "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."

CNN's Boris Sanchez is at the White House right now.

Boris, so Michael Cohen is a rat according to the president of the United States, but before he goes away in March, Cohen may have more to say on the record.

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Ana. We may not have heard the last from the president's former fixer. Despite having acknowledged in that Southern District of New York's sentencing filing and his plea deal that he had previously lied to Congress, it appears that he may be headed back to Capitol Hill to testify once more.

Representative Elijah Cummings, the incoming chairman of the House Oversight Committee, this weekend telling Jake Tapper on "STATE OF THE UNION" that he would like to hear Michael Cohen testify. He believes that Cohen still has some unanswered questions out there. He does make clear, though, he does not want any testimony to interfere in the Russia probe.

Listen to more from Elijah Cummings now. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D), MARYLAND: 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 the people's representatives will have an opportunity to ask him questions.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SANCHEZ: Of course, you can imagine that the White House likely would continue to try to discredit anything that Michael Cohen may say. Already today Rudy Giuliani in the Sunday morning talk shows saying that to believe anything that Michael Cohen is saying about the president, you simply have to take him at his word.

That's not exactly true. As you know, Ana, the Southern District of New York was able to corroborate some of what Michael Cohen is saying and AMI, the parent company of the "National Enquirer" which helped to squash those stories from Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal about alleged affairs with the president, they also corroborated what Michael Cohen was saying.

Further, Rudy Giuliani has continued to say that the payments that were made to those women were not campaign contributions. We can't forget that two of the charges that Michael Cohen pled guilty to in the SDNY were for illegal campaign finance violations because of those payments, so obviously Rudy Giuliani trying to put some distance between the president's former fixer and the White House, but leaving out some very important details -- Ana.

CABRERA: Hopefully Mueller gets to the truth and who do the American people believe? Well, just released today, a new nationwide opinion poll from NBC News, "The Wall Street Journal," covers a lot of issues, but look at this. On the question of whether the president has been truthful and honest about the Russia investigation, a big number there, 62 percent say no. They see the president as not being honest.

No mention of that poll in the president's tweets today, Boris.

SANCHEZ: Yes, that's right, Ana. It's unclear if the president has seen that polling. It's not difficult to believe that considering the vast number of contradictions and clarifications that have come from this administration in regard to a lot of things that the president has said about the Russia investigation.

Just taking previous statements that he's made into account you can imagine that what he would say to that poll is that it's fake. What isn't fake is that he's frustrated by this Russia investigation. It continues to hang as a cloud over everything that this administration does, and his frustration is clear. You'll recall that just a few days ago on Twitter he posted that he

believed that his approval rating would be somewhere in the 70s if it weren't for the Russia investigation based on a successful economy and his judicial appointments. Whether or not that's the case, obviously we'll never know -- Ana.

CABRERA: No, we won't. Thank you, Boris Sanchez, at the White House for us tonight.

With us now CNN legal commentator and former Trump White House attorney Jim Schultz and CNN legal analyst and former New York City prosecutor Paul Callan.

Jim, I want to ask you first about the president's tweet, we're going to put it back besides a fact-check because it's so inaccurate. He said the Mueller investigation was started illegally. He claimed the FBI broke into Cohen's apartment. None of that is true at all.

Guys, do we have the fact check up there?

[20:05:02] And Jim, I just want to ask you, is this tweet by the president acceptable to you?

JIM SCHULTZ, CNN LEGAL COMMENTATOR: Well, what the president is trying to say is that Jeff Sessions, you know, shouldn't have recused himself from the beginning. What the president is trying to say --

CABRERA: But that's not what the president said. He doesn't say anything about Jeff Sessions.

SCHULTZ: He said -- no, Ana, I understand --

CABRERA: He's saying that the FBI broke into the apartment.

SCHULTZ: I understand. He did follow up with a Sessions comment after that. But what you can take it in the content of the Jeff Sessions comment, you take it in the -- and the breaking into the apartment, certainly that came by way of subpoena so your fact check is right there. So, yes, the president -- no, the president wasn't right about the breaking in. He left out the part about the subpoena that's been approved by the court.

But the bottom line is, let's go back to the poll that you were talking about. The poll really at this point in time -- I think the poll is going to be -- we're going to see more about that when the Mueller report comes out, so the facts that come out by and through the Mueller report, you'll see those numbers go one way or the other based upon the Mueller report because the administration feels -- they are bullish on the fact that there was no Russia collusion. They continue to be bullish on that. So it's really going to hinge on what comes by way of the Mueller report.

The fact that you have, you know, all of these allegations from folks like Cohen who is a convicted liar at this point in time is somewhat, you know -- that's going to drive some of those numbers because people are hearing that by and through what's being reported in the news media, and I don't think it's been helpful that the president has gotten into the weeds on this time and time again.

I've said over and over that, you know, he shouldn't be making those tweets, right. He should be sticking to all the good things that are going on in this administration as it relates to jobs, the economy, the growing economy, ISIS is weakening, all of those things, and I think if you look at a poll this, poll was looking at how the American people felt about him telling the truth or not as it relates to the investigation. It didn't give an overall picture about how the American people feel about the president and the job he's doing and the impact it's having on their lives.

CABRERA: They asked about a bunch of different issues but that question specifically is obviously one that relates to the Russia investigation.

Trump's legal team has been trying to really paint this president as the truth-teller in all of this and everybody else around him as liars. I want you to listen to Giuliani talking about Michael Cohen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUDY GIULIANI, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S LAWYER: He will say whatever he has to say. He's changed his story four or five times.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABS NEWS HOST: So has the president.

GIULIANI: The president is not under oath.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CABRERA: The president is not under oath. Paul?

PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, there's the president own lawyer saying apparently that it's OK for the president to lie as long as he's not under oath, and even Jim's answer to your question I think demonstrates the problem that lawyers have representing the president. They have to say not -- defend not what the president has said but what he meant to say because the president either lies or speaks deliberately in an inaccurate way all of the time.

For instance, now Cohen is being attacked for being a convicted liar, as Giuliani said. Well, what was Cohen lying about? He was lying about something that was -- involved defending the president. He was repeating the president's statements about when contact with Russia occurred. The president made no attempt to correct those lies under oath before Congress, and you know the president knew that his lawyer lied about it, so I think that's the whole problem with defending Trump.

CABRERA: Now, Jim, is that a great defense? My client's story keeps changing because he's not under penalty of perjury?

SCHULTZ: No, that's not exactly the best way to go either. You know, but he's trying to do the best he can, and it goes back again to the points that I've been making. I think the best way to fight this -- the investigation is to do it behind the scenes, not do it in the public arena, not make -- not have your lawyers out there making public comments unless it's absolutely necessary and doing the talk show circuit certainly hasn't been helpful to him.

That being said, I mean, let's face it. You know, there were other fraud charges associated with Cohen that attack his credibility as, you know, one as a lawyer and also as a businessman and as a person, right, so the bank fraud and some of the other charges that he had go to the core of his credibility. Also, he's a guy that audio taped his clients. I mean, I don't know any lawyer that audio tapes their clients, and it's certainly not ethical and probably illegal to do.

(CROSSTALK)

CABRERA: Sure, but the tapes also prove some -- are now significant evidence who is telling the truth.

SCHULTZ: Well, we don't know what the tapes prove at this point.

CABRERA: No. We've all heard the one that related to the hush money payment.

SCHULTZ: But that's still not the way to go. Let's not say that's a good thing.

CABRERA: I hear what you're saying. I hear what you're saying about Cohen's credibility.

SCHULTZ: Right.

CABRERA: But I mean, it's not all about Cohen's credibility. I mean, it's not just Cohen who Mueller has gotten to plead guilty. We've got Flynn, we have Papadopoulos, we got a number of other people, not to mention the 192 charges that have come down against 36 individuals and entities.

[20:10:01] But let's talk about the hush money payment for just a moment because Giuliani was talking about it this morning.

SCHULTZ: Sure.

CABRERA: Defending that payment to Stephanie Clifford aka Stormy Daniels. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GIULIANI: If there's a personal purpose, now think about this. Suppose he tried to use his campaign funds to pay off Stormy Daniels, it wouldn't be totally illegal. If it's not a campaign expense, it can't be a campaign contribution. These are not campaign contributions.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But the corporate --

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CABRERA: So if Trump made these hush money payments, Paul, for personal reasons, to hide this affair, these affairs, alleged affairs from his family, his wife who just had a baby in one case when it allegedly happened, is that now -- is he in the legal clear?

CALLAN: Well, that's the so-called John Edwards defense, and he's certainly going to try to claim that, that these were personal expenses and maybe he spent these funds to protect Melania from knowing about the affairs that he had, but, of course, he's denied that he had the affairs, number one, and number two, there was a meeting with the publisher of the "National Enquirer" well in advance of the payments which took place in 2016 coming up with this catch and kill system where "The Enquirer" would go out and make contracts with women who said derogatory things about Trump and pretend that they were going to be authors at the "National Enquirer" if they didn't reveal anything about Trump.

So clearly this was a planned conspiracy to suppress this information so that he would be a better, more popular candidate, and that's a classic campaign contribution, and he used shell corporations to do it to, hide the connection to him making it clear that it's criminal.

Michael Cohen has pled guilty to this. The guilty plea was approved by a federal judge. The judge couldn't approve the plea if it wasn't a violation of federal law, so I think we're well past the Giuliani defense now that this was not criminal. It's clearly criminal, and the president was a co-conspirator in making the payment, making him guilty of a federal election law violation.

CABRERA: Paul, Jim --

SCHULTZ: So the --

CABRERA: Good to have you.

SCHULTZ: This campaign finance --

CABRERA: Jim, I'm so against the clock this hour but I'll let you get --

SCHULTZ: OK. You got it.

CABRERA: Give you 10 seconds to finish and then I'll say good-bye. Go ahead.

SCHULTZ: Well, these campaign finance issues are very difficult to prove, number one, and number two, as it relates to the AMI payments, you know, that was -- that payment was -- catch and kill is a term that's used all the time and something that's done all the time to protect people's reputations, so there's going to be more questions associated with whether that's really a campaign finance issue or not, or is it just protecting the reputation and protecting embarrassment, and is it a personal issue?

CABRERA: Jim Schultz, Paul Callan, great to have you both. Thank you so much.

CALLAN: Thank you. CABRERA: The father of a young Guatemalan girl who died in U.S.

custody said agents did everything they could to save her. So why is her family calling for an investigation? Details ahead live in the CNN NEWSROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[20:17:06] CABRERA: Welcome back. The father of a 7-year-old Guatemalan girl who died in the custody of Customs and Border Patrol says he has no complaints about how he and his daughter were treated by agents, but an attorney for the family says the man doesn't speak English, and he speaks Spanish as a second language suggesting he didn't understand what he was saying when he signed the paperwork stating the girl was in good health at the border, and now attorneys are pushing for a thorough investigation into the young girl's death.

Our Ed Lavandera is following this story from El Paso.

Ed, family lawyers say the girl was not suffering from a lack of food or water when she was taken into U.S. custody and yet she died less than 48 hours later. What more are you learning?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, that is the one point of contention that the father of this young girl and his lawyers are -- have with the Department of Homeland Securing who in the initial reporting of this incident after the "Washington Post" broke this story last Thursday. They initially said that the girl had gone days without food and water crossing in this desert area, but the father says that is simply not the case. That the daughter had spent -- had traveled from Guatemala to the border region on a bus and had been properly cared for, received plenty of food and water along the way.

And it wasn't until after she had arrived here in the United States that she first started showing signs of distress. It was on this bus ride several hours after she had arrived, being taken from the border checkpoint 95 miles north to the closest Border Patrol station. It was on -- during that bus ride that she started vomiting and showing signs of distress so the family is disputing the initial characterization coming from DHS officials and that is different from the fact that the father does say that during that bus ride and in the airlift from Lordsburg, New Mexico, where that Border Patrol station is located, to the hospital here in El Paso, the father says that he believes -- he has no complaints that he believes that Border Patrol agents and those medical professionals did everything they could to save his daughter's life.

CABRERA: Ed Lavandera, such a sad story. We search for the answers. Thank you for continuing to report on it.

Breaking news tonight, we are getting new details now about a new report prepared for the Senate. It gives us a fresh look at just how Russia is using social media to benefit President Trump even after he took office. "The Washington Post" reporter who broke the story joins us next live in the CNN NEWSROOM. Don't go anywhere.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [20:23:55] CABRERA: Breaking news. "The Washington Post" has obtained a draft of a report that has been prepared for the U.S. Senate about Russia's interference in the 2016 election. This report describes it as the most sweeping analysis yet of Russia's disinformation campaign. The report studied millions of social media posts provided by technology firms, and here's what it found, according to "Post."

That Russia used every major social media platform to help elect Trump, that all of Moscow's messaging was intended to benefit the Republican Party, specifically Trump, that on Facebook alone Russia's campaign reached 126 million people. It reached another 20 million people on Instagram.

Now earlier I talked to one of "The Washington Post" reporters that obtained this report, Craig Timberg, and our chief media correspondent Brian Stelter, and I started by asking Craig, how is any of this different from what we've already learned about Russian interference? Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CRAIG TIMBERG, TECHNOLOGY REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: This in many ways is the report we've been waiting for. It's sweeping, it's comprehensive. It uses the fullest data set we've seen yet from the companies who turned over lots of information to the government that they didn't turn over to anybody else.

[20:25:08] And so this is -- it doesn't exactly tell us things that we didn't suspect or haven't heard, but it puts it all together in a new way and it's a very comprehensive and compelling. I feel like they kind of reverse engineered the entire Russian disinformation campaign in this one report.

CABRERA: In your report you write that this report found the Russians, quote, "worked even harder to support Trump while in office." While in office. How so?

TIMBERG: Every platform that these researchers tracked posted more often after the election. YouTube in particular went up by some remarkable degree, and so we tend to think of this narrative in terms of, you know, coming up to Election Day but actually intensified after Election Day and we're still intensifying when the social media companies took these data -- took these accounts down from the Internet Research Agency in Russia sometime around the middle of 2017.

CABRERA: Now this Russian campaign, as we mentioned, Brian, reached is 126 million people on Facebook, another 20 million on Instagram. Is that a lot in the world of social media?

BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: Yes, on a Web site where there are billions of accounts, 100 plus million is a very big number. It doesn't mean that every person who viewed this content was manipulated or persuaded by it, but obviously the Russians didn't need to persuade 100 million people. They only need to persuade a relatively small number of people in order to affect the outcome of the election.

Now whether that is what actually happened or not, I don't think we will ever be able to say for sure. With all the talk lately about who knew, what, when, knew elements about collusion, knew claims about the Mueller probe, this takes us back to what really happened, and just how concerted the Russian effort was to try to persuade voters. And like I said, didn't take 100 million people to be persuaded.

What happened because of these Russian trolls, these hackers and criminals is it changed the conversation around the election and I think most importantly, Ana, as you pointed out, this reporting from these researchers is that it ramped up even more intensely after Election Day. That makes you think about Trump's relationship with Russia, Trump's relationship with Putin after Election Day in the early days of the presidency and what was going on. Why were these Russian agents still trying to affect Americans' thinking?

CABRERA: One of the details, Craig, in this report is that it found that Russians targeted African-Americans specifically with misleading information about how to vote. Tell us more about that.

TIMBERG: Well, one of the major parts of this campaign was keeping people from going to the ballot box, people who would have voted for Hillary Clinton, as least in the view of the Russians apparently, and so there was all this messaging around, hey, you know, we can't trust elections or Hillary Clinton isn't any better than Donald Trump, and we've known that for a while but to see it put together in a single comprehensive report is really impressive.

And it looks like the effort to reach African-Americans was nearly as extensive and as effective as the effort to get conservatives activated around gun rights or around immigration issues. So really they worked both sides of the coin, if you will, really effectively.

STELTER: And some of it was about promoting conservatives, encouraging to vote for Trump, others was discouraging voting for Clinton. But all of it was in the same direction, right? All of it was in the Trump direction even though they were pressing different buttons for different people.

CABRERA: Craig, does this report reach any conclusion as to how this may have impacted the election?

TIMBERG: It does not wrestle with that question and, of course, on some level it's unanswerable. Right?

STELTER: Yes.

TIMBERG: There's no way we can go and run the election again and take this out and see what happened.

STELTER: Right.

TIMBERG: But it does suggest that the campaign was really shrewd, was sophisticated in its understanding of American politics, was sustained and was -- and kept going even longer than most us really understood. And in fact, there's no reason to think this ended in 2017. I mean, the social media companies, Facebook and such, were still taking down, you know, accounts affiliated with this, you know, right up until the -- almost to the midterm election.

Now this report doesn't reveal what happened with that kind of data, but there's no reason to think the Russians stopped. I mean, why would they?

CABRERA: Let me read just a quote here. It says, "Social media have gone from being the natural infrastructure for sharing collective grievances and coordinating civic engagement to being a computational tool for social control, manipulated by canny political consultants and available to politicians and democracies and dictatorships alike." Brian.

STELTER: Right. And that applies to more than just Russia. More than just one foreign government. It happens to be Russia that is the central focus of this probe, but other foreign actors, other groups were also big in social media in this way and Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, Google, they have belatedly woken up to this facts way too late.

(INAUDIBLE) some new reporting that suggests maybe these researchers were only given the bare minimum of help from the social networks. Now we'll have to see what the networks say. Facebook may say that it was enormously helpful to these researchers. But that's been the concern for the past couple of years. How open have Facebook and Twitter been to letting us reconstruct what went wrong in 2016 and what might still be going wrong today.

Because I think as any user of Facebook and Twitter knows there's been some changes, there's been some improvements in some ways but it's pretty easy to go down a pretty dark rabbit hole and find a lot of nasty content on social media these days. Some of it just published by Americans but some of it published by people pretending to be Americans and that's the root of this report, that's the root of this problem. People that are posing as Americans trying to sow division in our country.

[20:30:00]

CABRERA: And Craig, as we point out again, again, this report suggests that Russians didn't stop once Trump is in office. Do we have any indication if they're doing it right now?

TIMBERG: Look, there's every reason to believe that they are but there's also a lot of reason to believe that they got more sophisticated. So, as Brian points out, the researchers do in the report, do take issue with how the social media companies handled the request by the government. Google in particular comes in for criticism for not being more open with its data on how YouTube was used.

There's some fairly point language about that and -- but it's also true that the companies are doing more now and it's also true that the Russians and others are presumably getting more sophisticated all the time. A lot of this -- you know, l the ads on Facebook were paid for in Rubles, right? The internet addresses were in St. Petersburg, Russia. It almost feels like the Russians weren't trying very hard to cover their tracks back in 2016.

I think there's every reason to believe they're better at this now and there's every reason to believe that it's still going on.

STELTER: And it's not something you can fix, it's always something you can manage. It's like a chronic condition, it's like diabetes, it's something you have to constantly be on top of and manage and the question is whether the companies that really manage our digital lives are able to manage this misinformation problem. That's still an open question.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[20:35:50] CABRERA: Michael Cohen convicted of what his Federal sentencing judge calls a smorgasbord of fraudulent conduct and will have to report to prison in March. President Trump's one-time personal confidant, his personal attorney who now says it was "my duty to cover up his dirty deed". CNN's Gloria Borger traces Cohen's gold- plated journey from fixer to flipper. Gloria?

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

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MICHAEL COHEN, AMERICAN ATTORNEY: The words the media should be using to describe Mr. Trump are generous.

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

BORGER: Now in the plot twist worthy of Shakespeare, the fixer has flipped.

COHEN: I'm done with the lying, I'm done being loyal to President Trump and my first loyalty belongs to my wife, my daughter, my son and this country. BORGER: Prosecutors say he's provided relevant and useful information

on contacts with persons connected to the White House, and in his own conversations with individual number one, aka candidate Donald Trump to criminally influence the election. In more than 70 hours of interviews, Cohen confessed to his own financial crimes and past lies and stands to pay the price, three years in prison.

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

BORGER: A betrayed Trump says it's all a lie, the deceit only serving Cohen's self-interests.

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.

RUDY GIULIANI, PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP'S PERSONAL ATTORNEY: The man is an honest, honorable lawyer.

BORGER: So what changed? Michael Cohen.

LANNY DAVIS, ADVISER TO MICHAEL COHEN: This man has turned a corner in his life, has hit a reset button and he's 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 always liked to say, the Ray Donovan of the office.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'll take care of it.

NUNBERG: He took care what have had to be taken care of. I don't know what had to be taken care of, but all I know is that Michael was taking care of it.

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

BORGER: Do you know 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: 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 interests in Russia and says he was in touch with Trump's lawyers and White House staff as he prepared a false statement to Congress. And Cohen says at the direction of the candidate he coordinated payoffs to women accusing Trump of sexual relations. Even releasing a secret recording about one of them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When it comes time to the financing which will be --

TRUMP: 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.

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

BORGER: Often with threats as in this 2015 conversation with a reporter.

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

MICHAEL D'ANTONIO, TRUMP BIOGRAPHER: This is 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.

[20:40:06] BORGER: Cohen, a sometimes Democrat, first came to Trump's attention after buying apartments in Trump developments then went to the Mat 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 certainly -- it was something much deeper, almost father and son kind of -- kind of thing.

BORGER: For Trump hiring, Cohen wasn't about pedigree. Cohen who was 52 got his degree from Western Michigan Cooley Law School and eventually entered the less than genteel world of New York taxi cab medallions.

NUNBERG: If you look where Michael came from in his legal career 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-nosed -- hard- nosed New York trial firm.

TRUMP: I will faithfully execute.

BORGER: But when Trump became president, he did not bring his brash wing man to Washington.

BORGER: Do you think he wanted to be in the White House, 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 not only knows where all the bodies are buried, he buried a lot of them himself and that ironically disqualified him.

BORGER: Maybe from working in the White House but not from working with Bob Mueller.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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

CABRERA: Gloria, thank you for that reporting. Well, this is something you don't see every day. How a car ended up on top of a house. You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[20:46:26] CABRERA: Welcome back. When you work fire rescue, you see a lot of strange things but this one even took fire crews in Montgomery, Alabama by surprise. A car crashed into a house early this morning and ended up sitting nearly vertical against the side of the home. Now, amazingly no one in that car or the house was hurt. Still not clear what caused the crash.

We have this just in. A bellwether look at the President's standing in the very first state to hold a 2020 caucus. I'm talking about Iowa. And CNN partnered up with Iowa's Des Moines Register newspaper for some brand-new polling. I want to bring in CNN Correspondent Ryan Nobles. Ryan, just how strong is President Trump's support among Iowa Republicans?

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, to put it bluntly, the President's support is very strong, strong enough where if you're seriously considering a challenge to President Trump as a Republican it would certainly give you pause. Take a look at these numbers. 67 percent of Iowa Republicans say they will definitely vote for the President in their caucus. Only 19 percent say they would even consider another candidate.

And the President's overall support within his own party is solid as well. 81 percent of Iowa Republicans say they approve of the President's job performance, certainly strong numbers, Ana certainly something that's going to perhaps take some of these Republicans that are considering a bid, Bob Corker, Jeff Flake, others that may have them at least second guessing that thought process right now.

CABRERA: So Ryan, does that mean that Iowans aren't open to the idea of a challenge to President Trump?

NOBLES: Well, that's what's pretty remarkable, Ana. It's even though they strongly support President Trump, they are certainly open to the idea that a Republican challenge him, at least in some capacity. In fact, when you take a look at these numbers, 63 percent say they would open -- would be open to the idea of a Republican challenger jumping into the Iowa caucus and only 26 percent say that they don't want someone to get in.

So even though they like President Trump by and large, if it's something that we know Iowans like it is a healthy competition, so they're not necessarily in disagreement with the idea that someone challenge President Trump in 2020.

CABRERA: So interesting. Is it President Trump himself, the person or is it more than that? How do Iowans feel about Trump's policies?

NOBLES: You know, Ana, we talk so much about the power of President Trump's personality, certainly that is a big factor but when you break down these number, it's clear that Iowans support his policies as well. Let's just tick through some of the more controversial positions that the President has taken and show you where Iowans are. 83 percent thought that it was a good idea for President Trump to send troops to the U.S. border.

How about the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court? Pretty strong numbers there as well. 81 percent supporting Brett Kavanaugh as a Supreme Court Justice. And finally what about building a wall on the southern border? 74 percent of Iowa Republicans agree with the President on that point. Ana, these are all policy positions that President Trump has pushed in a very big way.

It is resonating with Republicans in Iowa, and it is one of the reasons that you see that he's in such a strong position in this first early caucus state.

CABRERA: Ryan Nobles, thank you for breaking it down. To his supporters, President Trump represents the billionaire businessman who will bring his gifts for making money to all. So far an economy that began recovering four years under President Obama has bolstered Trump's case. Jobs are being added every month and the stock market, meaning, 401(k)s have been soaring but now come some troubling signs.

A number of significant drops in the market down 1,600 points in the last two weeks alone. Confidence in the economy if not quite rattled is certainly a little shaken. Joining us now, Stephen Moore, former Trump economic advisor, and Catherine Rampell, Washington Post opinion columnist.

[20:50:07] Stephen, you're an economist, how can -- should the President be about the economy and where its headed as we head toward 2020?

STEPHEN MOORE, SENIOR ECONOMICS WRITER FOR THE WALL STREET: Well, of course, the economy is going to be everything in terms of his re- election. So, I'm off the opinion that if the economy continues to be as strong as it's been for the past couple of years by election day then he's going to win a big re-election. But if the economy goes south, you know, anything could happen and he could be defeated.

So, it really is the economy stupid when it comes to that 2020 election. And, you know, there are some concerns in the economy, no question about it. The stock market has been on a downward spiral now for the last two or three months. But the real economy and it looks still really strong to me. I mean, construction is really good, manufacturing is good, industrial production is good, consumer confidence and small business confidence are really strong.

I talked to the manufacturing association this week, many of the leading manufacturers in the country, the CEOs may all said business has never been better. The one area of weakness that I see, Ana, is the housing market. It's still really soft in a lot of areas.

CABRERA: If the President loses the ability to take credit for helping voters get wealthy, Catherine, does he lose his ability to bring Republicans along behind him? Especially with the mounting legal questions that he's facing?

CATHERINE RAMPELL, OPINION COLUMNIST, WASHINGTON POST: I think what's interesting is that his approval ratings are as weak as they are given how strong the economy seems at the moment. So yes, if the economy turns south and if you look at the most recent Wall Street Journal survey of economist, about half of economists expect a recession by 2020. If it turns south, that will certainly be held against him.

Whether or not that's necessarily his fault that the economy turn south is a -- is a separate issue. As I always say, presidents do not control economies. They can affect them on the margin and certainly the trade war is not helping. If you look at that very same survey, the biggest risk to the economy that most economists see is in fact the U.S.-China trade war for next year. So, he's doing some things that won't help his case.

But either way, if the economy crashes. If in fact, we have a downturn and we're sort of overdue for one, statistically speaking, then, yes, that will certainly hurt him come 2020.

CABRERA: To Catherine's point, Stephen, given the President has like to take -- does like to take credit for the good economic times that we're seeing, do you think he's over -- overselled on that that his responsibility for the economic boom which he inherited, at least in part. And if so, is he in danger of being held responsible for an economy that has to slow down some point?

MOORE: Yes. It is the Trump economy. There's no question. I would disagree a little bit with Catherine. I think presidential policy has a big impact on the economy. I think Trump deserves a lot of credit for the deregulation policies and the tax cut is obviously been a huge success in terms of getting business confidence and business spending. I also agree with Catherine on the trade issue. Look, this is a high- stakes showdown we're having with China.

It's about time we have this showdown. If Trump can pull out a victory, as you know, they've got 80 days to have an agreement for China to come forward with some kind of concessions, if Trump can pull that off, think it will be enormously positive for the economy not just of the United States but for the world. But it's also true if this thing blows up and we get a trade war, that's going to be really negative for the -- for the economies of both countries and that could be a problem for Trump. CABRERA: So, just to be clear though, Stephen, because the first

question out of your mouth and the first word out of your mouth after my question was that, it is Trump's responsibility. He is responsible for such a good economy. So are you saying he owns it if the economy goes south?

MOORE: He owns it. That's exactly what I'm saying.

CABRERA: OK.

MOORE: So the good news that we got I think he -- you know, I never brought this idea that this is the Obama, you know, expansion. This is -- this is the Trump boom. But of course to think --

(CROSSTALK)

RAMPELL: Except for the fact that it began under Obama and the trades are exactly the same. OK. I mean, it's funny. It's like you're giving Trump all of the credit and you give Obama all of the blame but it is substantially the exact same economy. If you look at a trend line for unemployment it's basically a straight line. If you look at job growth, it's basically the same today as it was under Obama.

If you want to talk about business investment that has dramatically slowed down in the past quarter. So it seems like we had a temporary bump from the tax cuts. But it's not clear that that will last. So, you know, it's funny. I feel like you kind of want to have it both ways. You want to blame Obama and give Trump credit. And then say, well, you know, maybe if things go awry with trade then that will be -- that will be a problem.

But, you know, whatever long-term structural problems the U.S. economy has, those predate Trump and the policies that he has embraced under his tenure so far do not substantially change the fact that we have serious demographic challenges for example.

(CROSSTALK)

[20:55:05] CABRERA: Got to leave it there, guys. Catherine, Stephen, good to have you both. We'll have you back. Thank you for the discussion.

RAMPELL: Thank you.

CABRERA: I'm Ana Cabrera. Thank you for being with me tonight. Don't go anywhere, it is a decade's T.V. marathon. Jump in your time machine. We've got "THE EIGHTIES", "THE NINETEES" and "THE 2000S" up next.

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