Return to Transcripts main page


Michael Cohen Finishes Day One Of Testimony On Capitol Hill; Cohen: "I Look Forward" To Telling My Story Tomorrow; Trump Ally GOP Rep. Matt Gaetz Threatens Michael Cohen On Twitter Ahead Of Public Testimony; Running Bodyguards Accompany Kim Jong-un In Vietnam. Aired 9-10p ET

Aired February 26, 2019 - 21:00   ET


[21:00:00] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR, ANDERSON COOPER 360: Well, Jorge, I'm glad you and your crew are - are back and - and safe. But, obviously, your thoughts and our thoughts are with the people left behind--


COOPER: --in the struggle that is going on there. Jorge Ramos, thank you so much.

RAMOS: Thank you, Anderson.

COOPER: Well the news continues right now. Want to hand it over to Chris Cuomo for CUOMO PRIME TIME. Chris?

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR, CUOMO PRIME TIME: Thank you, Anderson. I am Chris Cuomo and welcome to PRIME TIME.

Michael Cohen reportedly told the Senate Intel Committee things they had not heard before, and that is probably just the beginning. Tomorrow is going to be a day that will be remembered, the day we saw whether this President does or does not have a real problem.

What can Cohen say, you keep asking, hearing that asked? It's not the right question. What can he show? That's the right question, and we have unique insight for you on that point. We have an idea of what Democrats want to ask Cohen tomorrow in public.

But how about the Republicans? We have one here, gearing up to question Michael Cohen. He's not happy with the man who's going to be sitting in front of him. Let's test the theories.

And did one of his colleagues just threaten Cohen to scare him into silence? Congressman Matt Gaetz says "No. That's not his intention." But what was he thinking with the tweet he put out today? That's the great debate.

What do you say? Let's get after it.



CUOMO: Michael Cohen fielded questions all day from Senate staffers in a classified setting. We hear he was contrite, apologizing for the load - the - the lies he told them the last time around, and explaining why he did so. Then, came this.


MICHAEL COHEN, DONALD TRUMP'S FORMER PERSONAL ATTORNEY: I really appreciate the opportunity that was given to me to clear the record, and to tell the truth. And I look forward to tomorrow to being able to, in my voice, to tell the American people my story, and I'm going to let the American people decide exactly who's telling the truth.


CUOMO: That comes in about 13 hours. What makes it special is you get to see it. And as you heard, Cohen is ready for what has to be one of the most anticipated public testimonies in American history.

The challenge for him is pretty clear. How do you prove your credibility? Well, how you come across but, most importantly, what you can show? Can he prove that this President directed him to commit federal crimes?

Remember the tape we got from you (ph) last year?


COHEN: It's all the stuff. All the stuff. Because here, you never know where that company, you never know what he's going to be--

DONALD J. TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Maybe he gets hit by a truck.

COHEN: Correct. So, I'm - I'm all over that. And, I spoke to Allen about it, when it comes time for the financing, which will be--

TRUMP: Wait a sec, what financing?

COHEN: Well, I'll have to pay him something.

TRUMP: I'll pay with cash (ph).

COHEN: No, no, no, no, no. I got it. No, no, no--

TRUMP: Check--


CUOMO: You remember how everything changed with that tape? Before it, it was the President didn't know. Cohen may have done it. The President was busy. Remember all that BS?

After the tape, what did it come down to? Oh, he didn't say cash. He says real share (ph). Remember that? That's the best they had after that. Why? Because the video is corroborative of what should be credible.

What else does he have that can show hush-money payment enabling by the President, directions from the President, business practices, campaign moves, that's what we will see or not see tomorrow. That's why, either way you look at it, it's going to be a big day.

Now, tonight, we have one of the lawmakers who will question Michael Cohen.




CUOMO: Republican Congressman, Clay Higgins. Welcome to PRIME TIME, appreciate having you before this big occasion.


CUOMO: So, give us a little love on your angle. Which way are you coming at Michael Cohen?

HIGGINS: I'll be coming directly. I'm a constitutionalist. I recognize every American's right to be known as innocent until proven guilty. I don't judge the man.

I don't - I don't claim to know his heart. And perhaps at one time he was a good - good man. But he has certainly failed and fallen, and his credibility is zero.

Now he's - he's convicted. He's about to go to jail for, in part, lying to Congress. And yet, he's the - he's the - the first large key witness called before the Oversight Committee, upon which I serve. I think tomorrow what you'll see, good sir, is less truth and more theater.


HIGGINS: Why? Well because Michael Cohen has proven to be untrustworthy. He produced false documents. He's made false statements. He's lied to you, sir. He's - he's been proven guilty.

And, again, I - I say I don't claim to know the man's heart. And I believe in redemption of all men. But he's about to find out what the inside of a jail cell looks like. And yet, tomorrow, he'll be in the - in the House Oversight Committee speaking as if he had credibility. He has none.

Perhaps there was a time in his life when he did, but he's lost that, you see. This is what - it's very easy for America to understand this. He's a failed and fallen man. I feel for him as a Christian principled man.

CUOMO: Right.

HIGGINS: But, tomorrow, I'll be questioning him.

CUOMO: Well Christians are all about redemption. He admitted his mistake. That goes a long way in your church. And it's about what he can show tomorrow.

So, are you open to what he is able to provide you that makes us not a matter of his word against the President, who has his own credibility issues, but what he can show you as proof of the same?

[21:05:00] HIGGINS: Well I'm always receptive to - to new evidence that could be - that could be presented in any case.

And, of course, Mr. Cohen should have turned over anything he's in possession of already to investigators in one of the many criminal investigations that he's been subject to. Anything he could possibly in possession of, I would - I would be very - I would be very questioning about the - about the integrity of that data.

CUOMO: That's a good point, by the way. If though - you - you don't have it already, why would he have it available tomorrow?

HIGGINS: Because tomorrow's political theater, produced by Lanny Davis, and - and career Democrat operatives that have somehow convinced the distinguished Chairman of our Oversight Committee to allow this charade to move forward tomorrow.

CUOMO: Well let's be very honest with each other, Mr. Higgins. Neither party has any kind of stranglehold on integrity when it comes to holding hearings.

There's plenty of theater at play whenever one of these things happens, whether you guys are in charge or the other side is in charge. But it's up to you to keep it correct tomorrow, right?

HIGGINS: I - I - I certainly--

CUOMO: And to ask questions that aren't just a condemnation, but are a clarification, and hopefully, to help the rest of us out, who care about the answers to the questions.

HIGGINS: I - I think that was well-stated, good sir. And, of course, there's political theater on both sides throughout the history of our nation. But tomorrow is what we're focused on as a country.

The very important issue, you know, whether or not Mr. Cohen should even be received as a credible witness before an Oversight Committee, that has a responsibility to present the truth to the American people, and in - and tomorrow's is - is clearly not the effort to - to accomplish that.

CUOMO: Well, I don't - I don't know--

HIGGINS: Tomorrow is an effort to discredit the President. Period!

CUOMO: But why so cynical? Why so cynical?

The - the Mueller probe, the investigators found Cohen credible and helpful, mixed results from the Southern District. They said he was helpful, in part, not helpful, in part.

Why not be open? Do you not care, sir, whether or not the President of this United States was part of a felonious campaign finance violation?

HIGGINS: Of course. Every American should care about that.

The question about the Gentleman's witness tomorrow, and his credibility, I think - I mean seriously, he's - he lied to you. Would you - if he told you again that he's not recording an interview, would you believe him?

CUOMO: If I never talked--

HIGGINS: He's lied to Congress. So why--

CUOMO: --if I never talked to somebody who lied to me again, I'd be very lonely on this set, Congressman.

HIGGINS: Would you - would you - would call him--

CUOMO: I'm well aware of what he's done.

HIGGINS: --as a witness if you were the - the Chairman of the Oversight Committee. He's - he's lied to Congress before. Why would he not again?

The - the only person at this that could - that could potentially win tomorrow is - is Michael Cohen to add a zero to some - some future book in this exposure he's getting.

CUOMO: But what if you get proof?

HIGGINS: I - a real question--

CUOMO: But what if you get proof of his role?

HIGGINS: --a real question, his relationship with Lanny Davis (ph).

CUOMO: Well--

HIGGINS: If we get proof, sir? I'm sorry.

CUOMO: Yes. If he - if - look, I mean I get your skepticism, maybe even a touch of cynicism. I get it. This is an ugly process, and it's been tortured by lying. There's no question about that.

But, you know, it could be argued later on, later on. There may be another political process. But the idea, Congressman--

HIGGINS: Yes. CUOMO: --of this guy admitted to a felony, the prosecutors believe they have the proof of the same. He says the President directed him to do it. I am - was certainly an enabler in the process.

And I showed a tape, an audiotape. I played an audiotape on my show that made the same very clear. Now, we've never had that kind of proof of a President being involved with a felony before he was President, but it's something that he's denied knowledge of again and again and again.

If there's more proof of that kind, that puts you in some kind of pickle, right, as a man of integrity.

HIGGINS: I'll say - I'll say again that as an investigator, I'm receptive to any new evidence that - that could prove one way or another, what the truth actually is. But if Mr. - if Mr. Cohen is in possession of some evidence like that--

CUOMO: Right.

HIGGINS: --it should already be in the custody--

CUOMO: Fair point.

HIGGINS: --of - of - of the investigative authorities.

CUOMO: Fair point.

HIGGINS: And - and regarding our President, who's a man that I - I respect and support, Mr. - President Trump has - has - has removed Mr. Cohen from his circle of influence. And yet, he's been embraced into the circle of influence of the Oversight Committee, and characters like Lanny Davis.

CUOMO: Well, what's - what's inconsistent about that?

HIGGINS: So, I just see this as theater tomorrow.

CUOMO: What's - I don't understand. The President removed him from his circle when it suited him.


CUOMO: He used to say he was a great lawyer, and a good man, and very trustworthy. When it suited him, it was good. When it was no longer suitable to him--

HIGGINS: Because children of God fail and fall--

CUOMO: --he jettisoned him.

HIGGINS: --good sir. I believe that perhaps there was a time when Mr. Cohen was a - was a solid guy. But he became - he - he became - he became compromised of his own spirit, his--

CUOMO: Compromised of his own spirit. HIGGINS: --his - his delusion.

CUOMO: How so?

HIGGINS: Yes, I would say so, sir.

CUOMO: How so?

[21:10:00] HIGGINS: Well how - how does any man fail and fall? You know, the word says that the - that the greed for money, the lust for money is a root of all evil. Mr. Cohen is no exception. He - he suffers from delusions of grandeur.

CUOMO: He said he was acting out of duty to the President and loyalty.

HIGGINS: But he benefited for himself, good sir. It - the President had nothing to do with his - his - his false presentations of his services as lobbyist to companies across the world, lying about access to the President.

CUOMO: No. But he may have had everything to do with the felony that he admitted to.

HIGGINS: Well he should have presented evidence of that into many criminal investigations. The Oversight Committee tomorrow, you know, a month or so before the man goes to jail for lying to Congress, amongst other things--

CUOMO: Right.

HIGGINS: --is not the time to produce proof that - that has been demanded by investigating authorities for a long time here.

CUOMO: Let's see if he has anything, and let's see what it is, and then we can decide--

HIGGINS: We shall see.

CUOMO: --where it came from. Let me ask you one other quick thing. This tweet from Matt Gaetz. We have him on the show. I offer him a fair hearing all the time. Hopefully, we'll have him again soon.

Would you write something like this or do you believe that this crosses the line of decorum if not legality in terms of how to treat a potential witness?

"Do you and your wife and your father-in-law know about your girlfriends? Maybe tonight would be a good time for that chat. I wonder if she'll remain faithful when you're in prison. She's about to learn a lot."

How do you feel about that, sir?

HIGGINS: That's not the kind of thing that I would say, good sir.

You know, to - to have decorum and civility in the most difficult of times is reflective of the character of the man speaking. And I don't - I don't claim to know the details of my colleague's statements or - or - or from whence they - they were born.

But I - I can say that - that - that tomorrow, myself and my colleagues will conduct ourselves with civility and respect, as we - as we seek the truth for the American people.

CUOMO: Congressman, thank you very much for being on the show. It's an important night, and it's important to hear from you, sir.

HIGGINS: Yes, and thank you, sir.

CUOMO: All right, good luck tomorrow in discharging your duty.

HIGGINS: Yes, sir.

CUOMO: There's some avenues that Cohen won't be able to go down tomorrow in public. But there's plenty he will be able to talk about. I have a window into a hearing that I believe will make history, next.








CUOMO: All right, there's a reason Michael Cohen's testimony is keeping the President up at night. Two words, providing evidence.

You can question Cohen's credibility, that's easy. But this isn't just about what he knows. It's about what he can show. That's why I kept making that point to the Congressman.

[21:15:00] And know this about Cohen. He keeps records. That includes tapes, like the one I played for you on this show of Donald Trump, then Donald Trump, now President Donald Trump, discussing one of the crimes that is sending Cohen to prison, the hush-payments.

Remember this?


COHEN: And I've spoken to Allen Weisselberg about how to set the whole thing up with--

TRUMP: So, what are we going to do?

COHEN: --funding. Yes. And it's all the stuff-- TRUMP: Yes, I figured (ph).

COHEN: --all the stuff.


CUOMO: More tapes like that? I'd have to believe no. I think we'd know that already.

But we'll be watching to see if Cohen starts to fill in the blanks about exactly what all the stuff means. That starts with names, names like who are the Trump Organization executives that we know from court documents signed off on paying Cohen back for the women.

Who did that and under what pretense? This is going to be important because the circumstances of how Cohen was reimbursed are the difference between a Fugazi (ph) marital mess and a felony, OK?

The reason to believe someone at the came - campaign was involved is because we know a member of the campaign sat in on the meeting where Cohen and the Publisher of The National Enquirer discussed the practice of burying negative stories about Trump.

Who was it? But Cohen's relevance goes beyond campaign finance questions. Cohen wasn't really just a lawyer. The President's right. As far back as 2007, he was also an Executive Vice President at the Trump Org and did lots of work on the business side.


COHEN: 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 - of course concern to me. And I will use my legal skills within which to protect Mr. Trump to the best of my ability.


CUOMO: Now, look, some of that he was in the glow, right, and that was on the PR side.

But on the business side, insurance policies, claims at Trump properties, maybe hiring practices, maybe personal information about the President, what he wanted people to know, and how his image was projected, what maybe Trump's closest held secret, how much he's worth, that's something that could come up in an Oversight meeting.

It's not going to send you away. It's not going to end the Presidency. But it's a point about what the President has been lying to you about or not. Cohen was by Trump's side for a couple of bankruptcy fights at a time when Trump couldn't get financing in the U.S.

All that creates a paper trail, a paper trail that looks a lot like this. The signed letter of intent, I showed you for the Trump Tower Moscow deal. Remember, that's the same deal that Cohen lied to Congress about. In his sentencing memo, Cohen's attorney wrote that even as he was lying, Michael remained in close and regular contact with White House base staff and legal counsel to client one. Who?

What were they doing? What were they telling him? Client one is, you know, it's obviously the President. We don't know whom he was talking to, and it matters. And if there are phone records, we may know.

Cohen's plea said that he asked a Senior Campaign Official about potential business travel to Russia. That intersection between the campaign and the business is going to be important.

Congress is going to want to know where else Trump was trying to do business, and where he may owe money. It's a path that plays right into the Democrats' argument that they need the President's tax returns.

Now, even with the deal to stay away from areas, Mueller and the SDNY are digging into, we're told that there is still eight or nine areas that are fair game. That just shows how deep Cohen's involvement in Trump World goes.

Tomorrow will not be a trial. The only verdict will be the one in the court of public opinion. But it will have political repercussions for the President. What are they? How will he fare? How big a deal is tomorrow?

That is the making of a great debate. I say we have it, next.








CUOMO: Well specifics have yet to spill from Michael Cohen's closed- door hearing today. The top Democrat on the Senate Intel Committee did say this.


SEN. MARK WARNER (D), VIRGINIA: Two years ago when this investigation started, I said it may be the most important thing I'm involved in, in my public life in the Senate, and nothing I have heard today dissuades me from that view.

(END VIDEO CLIP) CUOMO: Senator Warner there emphasizing the gravity of tomorrow's public hearing, which many say might be the most damaging hearing for a Commander-in-Chief since former White House Counsel John Dean blew the whistle on Nixon in 1973. His testimony marked the unraveling of that Presidency.

Could tomorrow's hearing be just as consequential? Symone Sanders, Steve Cortes, great debate.




CUOMO: Symone, is tomorrow of great import, yes or no, and why?

SYMONE SANDERS, BERNIE SANDERS 2016 CAMPAIGN NATIONAL PRESS SECRETARY, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I mean I - I think tomorrow is important because it's the first time America really is hearing from Michael Cohen since he was, you know, sentenced actually.

You know, he is set to go to jail and serve three years in jail for lying to Congress for hush-money payments. So, we're going to learn a whole lot tomorrow.

I - I also think this draws those, I mean, rightfully so, it draws parallels to John Dean. When John Dean testified before the Senate's Watergate Committee, that is where we found out a lot of information. That's where he - the - the revealing of Nixon's Enemies List came forward.

CUOMO: Yes, yes.

SANDERS: That is where all - all of these things happen.

And so, I think, similarly, tomorrow, potentially we will learn new information, I don't think to the gravity of what folks learned in - in the Watergate hearings in 1973. But I think we will learn something new.

I mean Michael Cohen will have to answer why he lied in the first place, and why he is back here tomorrow--

CUOMO: So, Steve--

SANDERS: --more so than just salvaging his reputation.

CUOMO: So, Steve, you know I'm not a big lover of hype. But the reason I believe tomorrow is going to be remembered in this entire situation is that I see it as a pivot point, because this isn't going to be about what's in the Mueller report, taking down the Presidency.

That's my speculation, yes. Attack me for it everybody, if you will. But I've just never seen it being an existential threat to the Presidency. However, tomorrow is the day that you know whether this President does or does not have something else to really worry about--


CUOMO: --other than that Russia stuff.

Either Cohen can point these guys in a direction, and say, he knew about this, maybe it's - maybe it's felony campaign finance reform, maybe it's that and something else. But tomorrow's the day you know whether or not--

CORTES: Right.

[21:25:00] CUOMO: --there's something else there that we haven't heard of yet.

CORTES: Right. No, listen, I agree. But, by the way, it - it can't be Cohen's word, right? It has to be Cohen proving it.

CUOMO: A 100 percent.

CORTES: You know, documentation--


CORTES: --corroboration because, you know, to channel the Eagles, "He can't hide those lying eyes." So, we cannot take his word for anything. But I agree with you.

And, by the way, I've said all along on your show and others on this network for a long time, the proper way to execute oversight over the Executive Branch is what's happening tomorrow, is the Congress holding hearings.

That's what our system is designed to do constitutionally. What it is not designed to do is have a largely unaccountable prosecutor within the President's own Justice Department investigating him.

CUOMO: Well, remember, they did the Special Counsel regs to make him more accountable, right?

CORTES: Right.

CUOMO: Both Left and Right, after Iran-Contra and the Clinton situation, none of them wanted that Independent Counsel anymore--

CORTES: Right. But I'm saying this is the right way.

CUOMO: --they let the statute go (ph).

CORTES: This is how we're supposed to investigate the President (ph).

CUOMO: Yes, listen, I'm fine with that. And in truth, if the President hadn't done what he did with Comey, you probably wouldn't have had a Special Counsel.

CORTES: I agree. It was, by far the worst - the worst mistake of his Presidency.

CUOMO: But here's what I want both of your take on about this. Here's the problem. Cohen is an admitted liar, Symone, all right? Now, you've had people since then say, "Well he's been credible here." Today, some people dribbled out some positive things.

So, you have him though, an admitted liar, and you have the President, who is a habitual liar on the exact same points. Who do you believe?

SANDERS: Well, I think that's why Michael Cohen's testimony, and if he reveals something new tomorrow, must in fact be backed up with documentation, with facts.

I actually, Chris, believe that there are more tapes that Michael Cohen has. We only had those tapes because those are the tapes that Michael Cohen decided to leak to us. We don't know if he has more conversations that he has recorded between, not just himself and President Trump, but himself and other folks.

So, we don't actually - we don't - we don't know. That's why tomorrow is so important. But I do believe that Michael Cohen's testimony has to be backed up with some facts.

But I will say that President Trump has lied at every given turn about things that don't even make sense for him to tell stories about. Michael Cohen, at this point, has nothing else to lie about. He's going to jail. His reputation is already in tatters from folks on both sides of the aisle.

And so, now, Michael Cohen is before Congress for no other reason, I think, but to tell the truth and I think maybe, you know, get a better - get somebody to play him better in the movie that they make about this Administration 30 years from now.

CORTES: Right, but, you know, Symone and Chris, both - both of you just said that the President's a habitual liar as if that's a matter of established fact. And I'm going to push back--


CORTES: --vociferously on that because--

CUOMO: Please.

CORTES: --if you look at, for example, the Washington Post constantly talks about this, you know, many thousand count lie total that they run, this Lie-O-Meter. Will you actually look into that, OK?

Many of them are hyperbole, many of them are jokes, a lot of them - most of them are opinions. So, I will take issue with this fact that the President lies habitually. I just I didn't think--

CUOMO: He said he didn't know anything about the payments to the women.

CORTES: To establish that as a premise, I think, is - is false. And he says--

CUOMO: He said he didn't know anything about the payments to the women.

CORTES: Yes, and listen, that's problematic, for sure.

CUOMO: No, it's not problematic, my brother.

CORTES: No, that's problematic.

SANDERS: It's called a lie.

CUOMO: It's a lie.


CORTES: That's problematic. But, no, but you can't tell me, you said he habitually lies.


CORTES: I mean I just I don't see that--

SANDERS: Yes. So he lies about - let me - let me give you an example. He lied about his crowd sizes.

CUOMO: Go ahead.

SANDERS: He lies about his crowd sizes often everywhere he goes.

CORTES: When did he lie - when did he--

SANDERS: Donald Trump often - Donald--

CORTES: When did he lie about crowd size?

SANDERS: Well, he lied about the inauguration. He says he isn't--

CORTES: When did he lie about it? I - I don't recall him lying about it.

SANDERS: Donald Trump lied about - yes, he did. Donald Trump lies about his crowd sizes.

CORTES: Right. Sean Spicer said a lot of things--

SANDERS: Donald Trump also--

CORTES: --that were indefensible but--

SANDERS: --Donald Trump also repeatedly talks about how many people have told him X, Y, and Z, and how folks are calling the White House to say X, Y, and Z, and the phones are - I mean, look, the - the President--

CORTES: Symone, do you know those to be lies? SANDERS: --and we can say he exaggerates--

CUOMO: She's giving you a break right now. You're lucky you didn't ask me this question.

SANDERS: We can say - we can say he exaggerates. You know, I'm just saying that the President is not a truthful person. And if folks have problem with the word, L-I-A-R, it's - it's - it's - it's just factual. It's just a truth at this point. I mean it's--

CUOMO: He's lying to the American people right now about the situation on the Border, and you know it.


CORTES: No. That's--

CUOMO: He says that he needs the Border wall to stop human trafficking.


CUOMO: He's got his buddy Bob Kraft--

CORTES: --completely disagree.

CUOMO: --caught up in one of the biggest trafficking rings they found. He didn't mention anything about trafficking.

CORTES: OK. Hold on.

CUOMO: He's got his Labor Secretary--

CORTES: Hold on.

CUOMO: --who gave Jeffrey Epstein a deal that a Trump--

CORTES: You're bringing in--

CUOMO: --that a Judge says was part of a lie.

CORTES: --you're bringing in a lot of extraneous information there.

CUOMO: He never mentioned trafficking about that either.

CORTES: Bob - Bob Kraft has nothing to do--

CUOMO: He is lying.

CORTES: Bob Kraft was not human trafficking, OK? That's just false, just false (ph).

CUOMO: I never said he was.

SANDERS: Oh, no, I'm sorry.


CUOMO: I never said he was.

SANDERS: Bob - to be clear - to be clear, the women - the young - the women who were involved in the - the - what everyone--

CUOMO: Go ahead.

SANDERS: --is calling the prostitution ring--

CUOMO: Yes, it's trafficking. It is. But I'm not--

SANDERS: --that is in fact trafficking. But these are women who have not--

CORTES: OK. Look--

CUOMO: --I'm not condemning Bob Kraft.

CORTES: --I don't want to get in - I'm not here to talk about Kraft.

SANDERS: --volunteered into it (ph). I just want to be clear that--

CUOMO: No, listen, hold on--

CORTES: I will - I will defend--

SANDERS: --I just - I just want to be clear about that. That is trafficking.

CORTES: And again--

CUOMO: Yes, that's fine. And you can defend the President's credibility, I'm fine with that.

You want to say not all of it is an intentional deception, that's fine. Let's just stick to the instant that we're dealing with, OK, which is in this instance, he said he knew nothing about these payments, it never made any sense.

But he said it, and he knew that it wasn't true. That's a lie. Now, the person who did it for him has admitted to a felony, and our President amounted to an unindicted co-conspirator in the indictment. That's a problem.

Now, tomorrow, we find out whether or not how he was paid, and who made the decisions, and in what context cements why he had to plead guilty to that. And if so, and it leads to the campaign that leads to the President, that's problematic.

That's why I'm saying tomorrow--

CORTES: Right.

CUOMO: --is going to be significant no matter what it's about. [21:30:00] CORTES: Oh, and listen, I agree whatever - what kind of proof he can offer could be extremely significant. But to that point too, again, I - I challenge the premise. Just because Michael Cohen pled guilty to campaign violations does not mean they actually happened.

CUOMO: It's highly suggestive that it did.

CORTES: Michael Cohen - Michael Cohen was over--

SANDERS: I - I would - I would agree that it definitely happened.

CORTES: He was - he was over a barrel--

CUOMO: He was.

CORTES: --for very serious crimes--


CORTES: --totally unrelated to Donald Trump.

CUOMO: True.

CORTES: And prosecutors often use that kind of leverage to get a defendant to plead guilty to a crime--

CUOMO: They can.

CORTES: --that may not in fact have been a crime.

CUOMO: True.

CORTES: And - and I believe that those were not campaign finance violations. Had he been able to fight that, he would have won, had he had his day in Court.

CUOMO: Maybe, maybe not.

CORTES: Unfortunately, he couldn't fight--


CORTES: --because he couldn't take the risk because he was so dishonest in many other areas of his life and so criminal.

SANDERS: Chris, if I can make a--

CUOMO: Go ahead, Symone.

SANDERS: --if I can make a different point.

I think it's - it's also important to note here, for the testimony tomorrow, the only thing protecting the President currently at this time, specifically in relation to Michael Cohen, is the fact that he is the current President of the United States. He is an unindicted co- conspirator.

And yet, and if not for him being the President, he too would probably be on his way to jail. And so, I think it's very interesting that the very thing that is protecting him from prosecution right now is the thing that has him in trouble.

The only reason anyone is under a spotlight, from Roger Stone to Michael Cohen, the only reason this hearing is actually happening tomorrow is because Donald Trump made the decision to run for President of the United States of America, and got elected.

CUOMO: Well here's what we should all hope for that tomorrow it's going to be a long time. Hopefully, people keep a little bit in check, all right? There's going to be drama. We know that. These are politicians. There's going to be drama.

But hopefully, we're able to understand tomorrow, at the end of the day, here's what this guy knows, here's what's worth following, or there is nothing worth following. And that is going to be very helpful to this process either way.

Symone, Steve, you two were helpful as well.

SANDERS: Thank you.

CUOMO: Be well.

CORTES: Thank you.

CUOMO: Tomorrow, it's going to be a big deal. It just is. It's not about hype because it could come out tomorrow where you're like, "Wow! He doesn't have anything on the President. There's absolutely nothing that this President has to worry about," OK.

But you never know, and that's why we're bringing the big guns out to break down how it may shake out, people who know the intricacies of this. Investigative Journalist, Michael Isikoff, has seen Presidents rise and fall. How does this shape up to him? What are his questions?

Key insight, next.








[21:35:00] CUOMO: From the start, the President has said, his business empire is a red line. That line will be crossed in just over 12 hours. The question is, what will we see when the curtain is pulled back, if anything.

One man who's been digging deep into Trump World is Michael Isikoff. Welcome back to PRIME TIME.




CUOMO: Do you believe tomorrow is a pivotal occasion?

MICHAEL ISIKOFF, YAHOO! NEWS CHIEF INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT, "RUSSIAN ROULETTE" CO-AUTHOR: Yes, it's, you know, perhaps the most pivotal moment in the Trump Presidency to date. The first time we're going to hear from a Trump insider, somebody who had been with him for years, testifying in public, and laying it all out there.

I mean, you know, if - if you want to go back and look in recent history, the only comparable moments, I could think of, is John Dean in Watergate, and Ollie North during Iran-Contra, you know, major presidential scandals with key witnesses testifying in public before Congress.

The only thing I can say is, Chris, this should have happened a long time ago.

CUOMO: True. What do you want to know? And, help me with this, the idea that he has stuff that he wants to show them, how would he have stuff that he wasn't supposed to turn over already?

ISIKOFF: Well, presumably, he has turned it over to the Southern District, and to Mueller's people, you know, whatever he's had. Why he didn't turn it over to Congress?

You know, the answer is, the fact is he lied to Congress. He's admitted he lied to Congress when he testified before. So, he's going to have a lot of explaining to do about why he lied when he previously testified--

CUOMO: Right.

ISIKOFF: --to. And also, if the leaks we're getting from his spinners, prince - principally Lanny Davis are true - true, and he's going to talk about, you know, all the sordid things Donald Trump did over the years, racist comments, sexist comments, fraud, Michael Cohen was there beside him--

CUOMO: True.

ISIKOFF: --all these years. Was there ever a moment--

CUOMO: True. ISIKOFF: --that he had doubts about what Donald Trump was doing, where he expressed reservations? Did he ever talk to Donald Trump, and say, you shouldn't be doing this? I mean all these are legitimate questions that he - he'll - he'll have to answer.

CUOMO: See. But I - you know, but I hear you. But a lot of that stuff - anything that goes to the general nature and character of Donald Trump, I mean that's a - that's a dead letter for me, Mike, because they already decided to elect him. So, now it's--


CUOMO: --do you have something bigger like what do you want to know--


CUOMO: --that might be--


CUOMO: --that might be influential on the political process that may follow oversight?

ISIKOFF: All right, well let's start with the campaign finance violations. We, you know, he's pled guilty to them. He said he acted in coordination at the direction of Donald Trump. The prosecutors have endorsed that.

But how did that work? What did Donald Trump say exactly to him? What did he say to Donald Trump about those payments to Stormy Daniels and the scheme to pay off Karen McDougal?

Was it discussed in the context of the election? You know, Cohen has said he did this for the purpose of keeping these women quiet during the election. But the critical question is start - as far as Trump's culpability is--

CUOMO: Right.

ISIKOFF: --what was in his head?

CUOMO: Right.

ISIKOFF: Had he made these sorts of payments before? If so, that could be exculpatory. This may be the way Donald Trump did business.

CUOMO: Right.

ISIKOFF: Somebody makes allegations against you, you pay them off, and keep them silent.

CUOMO: And what if he can show that the President thought that this was connected to his campaign hopes?

[21:40:00] ISIKOFF: Well then that does directly implicate the - the President in a-- CUOMO: You think that's enough--

ISIKOFF: --in a crime.

CUOMO: --for impeachment?

ISIKOFF: No. Not in and of itself.

You know, first of all, the - these payments were - you know, one thing that's interesting that nobody's picked up on here is the fact that he's going to testify about them at all.

Presumably, if the Southern District had an ongoing investigation into this matter, they would have put the brakes on Cohen--


ISIKOFF: --testifying about that.

CUOMO: So, what does that tell you?

ISIKOFF: But they haven't done it. It suggests to me that they don't have further indictments they plan to - to bring, not just against the President, which they're probably barred from doing because of Justice Department policy, but others in the Trump Organization, who were complicit in making those payments.

CUOMO: So, do you think that they're letting him talk about it because this is the closest they get to what they know? Or do you think they're letting him talk about it because there's nothing there, so they don't care?

ISIKOFF: Well, you know, there's clearly something there because he pled guilty to it. But the question is, are there further cases down the road that the Southern District is building? If so, you would have expected them to ask Cohen not to testify about it.

But I want to come back to something else you said earlier in this show.

CUOMO: Please.

ISIKOFF: You said he's not allowed to talk about Russia. Who said he's not allowed to talk about Russia?

That's, you know, Cummings said this is not going to be about Russia, but he didn't give an explanation for why not. Cohen testified about Russia today behind closed doors. He'll testify on Thursday before the House behind closed doors.

We've not been given any explanation for why that testimony, which is crucial to the Russia investigation, and the most important threat to - to Donald Trump's Presidency, something that could lead to impeachment, depending on the circumstances.

There's been no reason given for why Donald Trump can't give that test - why Michael Cohen can't give that testimony in public.

CUOMO: Michael Isikoff, on point, as always. I can't wait to get your thoughts on what happens tomorrow. Be available, please, sir.

ISIKOFF: Happy to give them.

CUOMO: Take care.


CUOMO: On the other side of the planet, the President may be pulling an all-nighter to watch what we'll all be watching tomorrow. Who knows? Maybe Kim Jong-un will tune in as well.

What are those two up to in Vietnam on the eve of their Second Summit? That's next.








CUOMO: Half a world away from Washington, drama is unfolding in Hanoi, Vietnam, and it's not just because of Trump's upcoming meeting with Kim Jong-un. The North Korean leader's arrival today meant this, another glimpse of his Men in Black running after his motorcade.

But they weren't the only ones running. If you thought they were fast, check this out.




CUOMO: This is Kim's translator, sprinting to his side after the Leader stepped off - off the train in Vietnam. There's a reason why he's running so fast. When you work in a place like North Korea, you do not want to tick off the boss.

It's a funny moment, but not really. Life's no joke when you're dealing with a deadly, blood-lusting, ruthless dictator, who in reality is using human shields for his motorcade.

D. Lemon is with me. You know, the reason this has all become more interesting is that the

President has gone out of his way to bring up the better side of Kim Jong-un. "You know, he's been really effective. You know, he's a young guy. You got to respect that he got power, and he sure does love his country."

DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR, CNN TONIGHT WITH DON LEMON: I think the President, he would probably want that. Well, don't you think he would like people chasing after him that way and don't--

CUOMO: I think he has people chasing after him.

LEMON: Well not like that, like running behind his motorcade. I think he would actually--

CUOMO: Maybe not quick.

LEMON: --I think he would love that.

But, listen this is what happens when you put a dictator on the same level as President of the United States. And, you know, did you see the video of - of Kim Jong-un stopping to take a smoke break?


LEMON: He's all excited. He's - I mean he's like chilled. He's like he's got a night out on the town and, you know, and a good night. He smokes, taking a smoke break, getting off of his train.




LEMON: He's like, "Look, I'm on the world leader, the President, the Leader of the Free World."


LEMON: "I'm on the same footing as him." So that's what you - that's what happens when you do this.

CUOMO: What are you taking on tonight?

LEMON: I'm taking - of course, we're going to talk about Michael Cohen. Finally, I can see you. I couldn't see you for a - a moment there.

CUOMO: Oh, it's a tragedy in and of itself. Do you believe tomorrow is a--

LEMON: I know. I was just looking at myself in the monitor.

CUOMO: Do you believe tomorrow is a big day? LEMON: I do believe tomorrow's a big day. And I think, you know, people say Michael Cohen has credibility issues, OK. I'll grant you that. But I actually think he's pretty credible right now.

I think that he has - what does he have to gain by doing this? Certainly nothing. And if he lies he could end up going to jail for a much longer time.

So, you know, all those people who are saying "Michael Cohen is not credible, he's not," I think he's actually pretty credible, and that's why you're seeing disgusting things, vile, below-the-belt things like Matt Gaetz.

I've never seen anything like that in my life. Where I grew up, you know what you call that? Low down in the gutter or ooch (ph) out the ghetto, the ghetto, the ghetto. It is gross and disgusting, and I'm going to talk about it coming up, a sitting Member of Congress.

But guess who opened the door for him? The man--

CUOMO: President of the--

LEMON: --who sits in the highest office of the land.

CUOMO: --United States.

LEMON: Yes. Director Clapper joins us. He's going to talk about what Michael Cohen will bring or not bring to the table tomorrow. And he has experience. He has knowledge. So, he knows.

CUOMO: Beautiful. Don, I'll check with you--

LEMON: See you.

CUOMO: --in a second.

LEMON: See you.

CUOMO: All right, so time for the closing argument. It's going to be a lot to digest tomorrow, both abroad and here at home. And I hope Republicans and Democrats remember why they're there.

We know that there's going to be drama. We know that there's going to be pageantry. But there's an argument to be made about what tomorrow means one way or the other, and I make it for you, next.








CUOMO: There's no need to hype tomorrow. We know it's a loaded occasion. We haven't really heard from anyone inside the President's inner circle. That's about to change.


COHEN: I look forward to tomorrow to being able to, in my voice, to tell the American people my story, and I'm going to let the American people decide exactly who's telling the truth.


CUOMO: To be fair, Cohen is an admitted liar. And this President and his peeps certainly want you to believe that that's all he is. Ordinarily, the bar would be really high to impugn such an office, but this President is also a known liar.

So, who and what to believe? Considerations.

Cohen knows Congress would immediately refer him for prosecution and that the DOJ would be happy to oblige if he lies. And Cohen knows. They caught him once already.

Second proof. He was at the center of an admitted felony, paying off women to help the campaign. Does he have proof that there was a plan to cover-up the payments that the President directed him that the President knew this was to help the campaign? Proof will be the key.

Remember the tape Cohen made of POTUS and him discussing the payments to his women. Remember, before that, the President used (ph), "I didn't know anything. I didn't know anything." After it, all they could do was play with what words he used in the tape. Video proof matters.

I fought like crazy to get you that tape because I knew this was going to be about more than a peccadillo.

[21:55:00] Now, I believe Cohen has other proof, maybe not as obvious as this tape. That would shock me. But it could go to what this President knew and may have enabled or directed. That is a huge boost because corroboration feeds credibility.

Last, Cohen has been at Trump's feet for a lot of things. He's inner circle, certainly about the business practices, but also the campaign.

What did the President know and when did he know it? And how can Cohen show the same? This man could be your best look at that so far. And if he has nothing, this is still pivotal because it may signal that this POTUS has nothing to really fear.

Harkens back to Watergate, Counsel John Dean testifying to establish that Nixon knew what was up.


JOHN DEAN, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL: I began by telling the President that there was a cancer growing on the Presidency, and if the cancer was not removed, the President himself would be killed by it.


CUOMO: Testimony had a huge impact, ultimately leading to Nixon's resignation. When an insider reveals that a President knew something and lied about it, it hurts. Remember this?


RICHARD BEN-VENISTE, LAWYER, WATERGATE SCANDAL SPECIAL PROSECUTOR, 9/11 COMMISSION MEMBER: Isn't it a fact, Dr. Rice that the August 6 PDB warned against possible attacks in this country? And I ask you whether you recall the title of that PDB?

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, FORMER UNITED STATES SECRETARY OF STATE: I believe the title was, "Bin Laden Determined to Attack Inside the United States."


CUOMO: Not a good time to be Cavalier. Presidential Daily Briefing, there was Condi Rice, insider revealing that which was played as a random attack with something may be different. I remember her words, and how they resonated.

And, of course, the infamous Iran-Contra hearing, and the infamy of Ollie North.




CUOMO: North revealed he moved money from the Iran deal to the Nicaragua Contras. And he claimed his higher-ups at the White House knew about it, possibly even the President.

Now comes Cohen, the latest entrant to a pantheon of perfidy, those who turned on Presidents to come clean to you about important matters that were lied about and/or covered up.

Of course, Cohen's not at the same level of power or prestige as any of these other examples. But this is the Trump Administration. Those qualities are in short supply. And it's fitting, given this President's background, that a lawyer and fixer known for tough talk and being loose with the truth, would be the echo of the Chief Executive. We are the company we keep, right?

Those on the Left, be sure to see what Cohen can say and show to back up any statements. Even in a political trial, you can only claim to know what you can eventually show. Please stick to the matters that are most serious. Scandal is seductive, believe me. I know. But try to be productive.

And for those on the Right, you have an obvious problem. For those looking to curry favor with this President and his base by ripping into Cohen as a liar and someone known to do bad things, be slow to call out things in Cohen that you ignore on a daily basis from this President.

Too many are dismissing Cohen as not being worthy of any belief because of his admitted lies, when they refused to call out a President who has already lied more than any President in modern history.

Tomorrow's a big day. Hopefully, it's not about hype but history. This day may be remembered as Dean and North are today. Hopefully, it is remembered for advancing our understanding of what matters.

Tomorrow will be the day that it became clear that this President has something significant to worry about or he does not. Either way, more clarity would be a gift you all deserve.

Thank you for watching. CNN Tonight With D. Lemon starts right now, give it to him a little early. Is he in the chair?


CUOMO: And ready?

LEMON: You see that? Wait, oh that way. You see that behind me?


LEMON: Capitol. I'm in Washington. I'm getting ready for tomorrow. You will be here tomorrow. There's a lot to talk about. You know, I - you know, I watch you every night buddy when I'm not getting - when I'm not taping stuff for my own show.

And, you know, you just said that this President has a history that he lies a lot. And one of your guests said, "No, it has not been proven." And you were asking, and I was so sitting there in my office, watching you on TV, and I was going through them.

I'm like, well he said that - four former Presidents said that they wanted the wall built. They all said no. He lied. They didn't want the wall built. He said he didn't know about the payments to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal. That was a lie.

He said Obama ordered wiretapping on Trump Tower. That was a lie. He said he passed the biggest tax cut in history. That is a lie. He said that Obama was close to starting a war with North Korea. That is a lie.

He said he had nothing to do with Russia. But, in fact, his own lawyer, Rudy Giuliani says in talks about Moscow Project - about this Moscow Project. That was a lie. He lied about that. He's lied about so many things. He lied about the former President not being from, you know--


LEMON: --born - born in the United States.


LEMON: Lie after lies on - lies, lies and more lies, lies on top of lies.

CUOMO: And that's why it's tough for these Republicans tomorrow. They're going to come at Cohen, and rightly so. They have every right to grill him. But if they're going to do it in the name of defending the President--

LEMON: No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, well they have every right to grill him.

CUOMO: Sure.

LEMON: But they don't have every right to defend him because if you care about one liar--

CUOMO: That's right.

LEMON: --then you have to care equally about another liar.


LEMON: So, why - why do Michael Cohen's lies matter and Donald Trump lies don't?

CUOMO: That's right. Because one of them they're afraid of and one of them they're not. That's why. But that's the problem for them tomorrow. And that's why if they come out about him just as a point of credibility, and he's actually--