Return to Transcripts main page

CNN NEWSROOM

Michael Cohen Testifies Before Congress; President Trump Meets With Kim Jong-un. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired February 27, 2019 - 15:00   ET

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


[15:00:01]

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Speaking face to face with the Congress he now admits he lied to a few months ago, lies that Cohen claims he told on behalf of his former boss and on behalf of himself.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER ATTORNEY/FIXER FOR DONALD TRUMP: I am ashamed that I chose to take part in concealing Mr. Trump's illicit acts, rather than listening to my own conscience.

I am ashamed because I know what Mr. Trump is. He's a racist. He is a con man, and he's a cheat.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Cohen also gave detail and provided some documentation about the hush money payments made to adult film star and director Stormy Daniels.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COHEN: As exhibit 5-A to my testimony shows, I am providing a copy of a $35,000 a $35,000 check that President Trump personally signed from his personal bank account on August 1 of 2017, when he was president of the United States, pursuant to the cover-up, which was the basis of my guilty plea, to reimburse me, the words used by Trump's TV lawyer for the illegal hush money I paid on his behalf.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Mr. Trump's TV lawyer is what Michael Cohen calls Rudy Giuliani.

You may recall that in April of the following year aboard Air Force One, President Trump denied any knowledge whatsoever of those payments to Stormy Daniels. Something else the president claims he has no knowledge of, that 2016 Trump Tower meeting, where Donald Trump Jr. and other campaign officials sought dirt on Hillary Clinton from someone they were told was a Russian lawyer.

Here again is Cohen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COHEN: Don Trump Jr. came into the room and walked behind his father's desk, which in and of itself was unusual. People didn't just walk behind Mr. Trump's desk to talk to him.

And I recall Don Jr. leaning over to his father and speaking in a low voice, which I could clearly hear, and saying, "The meeting is all set."

And I remember Mr. Trump saying: "OK, good. Let me know."

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: For many Republicans at the hearing, there's a clear line of attack, Cohen's tenuous relationship with the truth, his financial troubles and perhaps, perhaps even a little sour grapes.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JIM JORDAN (R), OHIO: Mr. Cohen, how long did you work in the White House?

COHEN: I never worked in the White House.

JORDAN: And that's the point, isn't it, Mr. Cohen?

COHEN: No, sir.

JORDAN: Yes, it is.

COHEN: No, it's not, sir.

JORDAN: You wanted to work in the White House.

COHEN: No, sir.

JORDAN: You didn't get brought to the dance. Now...

COHEN: Sir, I was extremely proud to be personal attorney to the president of the United States of America. I did not want to go to the White House.

JORDAN: I see a guy who worked for 10 years is here trashing the guy he worked for, for 10 years, didn't get a job in the White House, and now, and now you're behaving just like everyone else who's got fired or didn't get the job they wanted, like Andy McCabe, like James Comey, same kind of selfish motivation after you don't get the thing you want.

That's what I see here today. And I think that's what the American people...

COHEN: Mr. Jordan, all I wanted was what I got, to be personal attorney to the president.

(END VIDEO CLIP) TAPPER: CNN senior congressional correspondent Manu Raju joins us now live from Capitol Hill.

Manu, what else did we learn from Cohen that we may not have known before?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, big focus heading into today, today was lies that he told back in 2017 about that Trump Tower Moscow project.

Of course, at that time, when he privately testified before two congressional committees, he said that there really wasn't much of an effort by the Trump Organization to pursue that project. He said it ended in January 2016 and that was essentially it.

Well, he now is saying that there was much more involvement by then candidate Trump who's asking about it a number of times, according to Cohen, up until June of 2016. He says that there was discussions with Donald Trump's attorneys about editing his false testimony that went to Capitol Hill.

He said there was a meeting with Trump attorneys where the president was also present where they discussed his testimony before he actually emerged and before he delivered that testimony, including a discussion over the time frame. This committee, the Democrats have asked for that initial statement before it was allegedly edited by the Trump attorneys to be provided to this committee.

And so expect that to be an area of investigation going forward, but beyond that, questions about the president's behavior, comments, racist comments that he allegedly made, lies on behalf of the president that Cohen allegedly had told, including the decision, the president saying that bone spurs prompted his reason -- deferments from serving in Vietnam.

[15:05:01]

That's something that Cohen alleges was made up. So, you have everything from the personal nature to potential criminal activity in the White House involving that hush money scheme and payments that the president made to silence those stories ahead of the 2016 elections, all bound to feed this investigation here on Capitol Hill going forward.

We will see what the Southern District of New York plans to do. But one thing was interesting, too, Jake. Cohen would not answer a question about conversations that he had with the president after the Southern District of New York raided his properties, because he said that matter is still under investigation by the Southern District of New York.

So a lot more questions still to be answered about where these investigations head after today, Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Manu Raju on Capitol Hill, thanks very much. Let's discuss.

Let's start with the suggestion, because I'm hesitant to call it an allegation, because he -- Michael Cohen is saying, in retrospect, I think they were talking about the Trump Tower meeting with the Russian government lawyer, but he's not 100 percent sure.

But that is a rather explosive allegation if President Trump knew about it ahead of time, which, of course, he did not.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: It's an expressive allegation. It is also a defense to the charge that Michael Cohen is just making everything up, because if he was making everything up, he'd make up a hell of a lot better story than that one.

It's a vague half-heard conversation that may or may not be about the Trump Tower meetings. But it doesn't prove much of anything, but it does suggest that he is trying to tell the truth, because if he was making stuff up, he would have said, yes, I heard them talking about the Trump Tower meeting and the Russian lawyer.

And it's vague. And it's not proof of anything.

DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: But he kind of makes Don Jr. out to be Fredo in "Godfather II," which is he would never be trusted setting up a big meeting like this unless the father knew, unless the Donald knew.

And in this case, that's what the implication is. But I go back to this earlier point, which is you don't have to hook everything onto Cohen, when there could be a lot more out there. He may just be a piece of it.

And I thought this implication that, again, nothing like that, like a Trump Tower meeting, with all this opposition against Hillary Clinton that might come in from a source, is going to happen without the candidate knowing about it.

(CROSSTALK)

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: ... one thing, because Manu mentioned something that we haven't talked a lot about, because it hasn't been brought up in the questioning, but from the opening statement.

The other theme is hypocrisy, major hypocrisy on two issues, number one, Vietnam, which, ironically, the president is there as we speak, but about the Vietnam War, that Michael Cohen testified about how aggressively then candidate Donald Trump tried to keep the real -- the records of the fact that he got deferred, he didn't really have a bone spur, from the public, at the same time he famously, infamously, went after John McCain as not a real war hero.

TAPPER: Because he was captured, because he was a prisoner of war.

BASH: Because he was a prisoner of war. That's number one. And number two, the idea that he allegedly had Michael Cohen bully his former university, all of his schools into not giving over, not making public his grades and his SAT scores, which on its face is ridiculous, but if you also compare that to things that he has said about other candidates, making fun of them for not doing exactly that.

Those are just two things. If they were the only pieces of testimony that we got in a normal hearing, they would be huge.

TOOBIN: And remember what he used to say about President Obama. It's like, where are his grades?

BASH: That's what I mean.

(CROSSTALK)

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: But the scale of things that Donald Trump has kept private, i.e., his tax returns, his grades in college seem small by comparison.

(CROSSTALK)

BORGER: Can I just get back to Donald Trump Jr.?

The notion, what I thought was sort of funny, actually, the notion that nobody walks behind Donald Trump's desk, nobody walks behind his desk, and his son was whispering in his ear and then, looking back on it, I thought, oh, that must have been what they were talking about, has a ring of truth to it, even though it's not dispositive in any way, shape or form.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: We were talking about this earlier, John, the idea that his testimony, Donald -- I'm sorry -- Michael Cohen's testimony, is so scathing about President Trump.

It goes into what his net worth actually is. It goes into the bone spur deferments from Vietnam. It goes into hiding his SATs. Here, he says something rather nasty that might be true, I don't know, about Donald Trump Jr., saying: "Mr. Trump had frequently told me and others that his son Don Jr. had the worst judgment of anyone in the world."

And I wonder, does that kind of personal vitriol -- again, it might be true, I don't know. Michael Cohen has -- he's going to jail for lying to Congress, I don't know if you know.

[15:10:01]

And does that kind of vitriol help or hurt his credibility? Do you know what I mean?

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's a great question, in the sense that there is no question.

He's also said some things, that Ivanka is involved in this. There's clearly some -- pick your word for it -- I will just call tensions, to be polite -- between Mr. Cohen and the Trump family. They view him now as a trader. They view him as someone who has flipped. He's clearly trying to play to the internal family dynamics.

And if you have been around the family, even back to the businessman Trump days, before he was a candidate for president, you sense that in these conversations sometimes of rivalries within the family. Welcome to any big family. These things happen.

So Cohen is trying to poke it. Does it help him or hurt him? I don't know. We do know that Donald Trump Jr. was tweeting as Mr. Cohen was testifying, saying he's not true.

And I think it also plays into the politics of today. There's a lot of substance today. The question on the substance is, do the Democrats follow up? Do they just want this drama or do they try to bring in Mr. Weisselberg, who would know about the Stormy Daniels payment?

I don't think they can get the president's executive assistant, Rhona, but knows who got in the rooms or might know about that...

(CROSSTALK)

BORGER: Robert Mueller did.

KING: Robert Mueller did get her.

But do they try to bring in more documentation? Do they try to build on this? Or was this just for the drama?

To the politics of it, Donald Trump Jr. tweeting tells you he's involved in this. We will see if and when we get a reaction from the president. What the Republicans are trying to do, they're not defending the president, but they're trying to keep everybody in their box.

All of this has become so polarized. Robert Mueller is either doing the lord's work or he's a witch-hunt. Donald Trump is either God or Satan. And the Republicans are trying to keep everybody in their box by just attacking Cohen as part of the Democrats.

TAPPER: And the Democrats saying -- some of the Democrats acting as if this is the greatest redemption story in thousands of years.

(CROSSTALK)

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes.

One of the most fascinating parts of this testimony was the one time that the Republicans did try to defend Donald Trump. And that was on the issue of race, right? You had Cohen come out and say that Donald Trump has said some pretty terrible things about African-Americans, said that they were too dumb to vote for him and only they would live like this, he said, of I think after Americans living in Chicago.

So I believe it was Mark Meadows from Mark Meadows...

TAPPER: Yes.

HENDERSON: ... literally said, well, here is the black friend as proof that Donald...

TAPPER: Lynne Patton.

HENDERSON: who is Lynne Patton.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: She worked for HUD. And she used to work for the Trump Organization, yes.

HENDERSON: So that was such a bizarre moment, the only time I think that they tried to defend Donald Trump. It failed miserably. It was an idiotic thing to do. She apparently was very happy about this moment, tweeted about it before it happened, but then looked very odd and uncomfortable literally standing behind as sort of the embodiment of the...

(CROSSTALK)

GREGORY: How about the congressman who said...

(CROSSTALK)

GREGORY: "I have been around him on a flight on airports. What, he never said any of those things then."

(CROSSTALK)

TOOBIN: It may be that the president like both "Green Book" and Driving Miss Daisy."

(LAUGHTER)

TOOBIN: So that apparently, Hollywood thinks is...

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: Let's not start. You're getting really controversial.

(CROSSTALK)

GREGORY: But I actually think, John, to your point, that this is where Cohen mistakenly fell into the trap of staying in this box of partisanship, because he did seem partisan in his opening statement.

BORGER: I think so.

GREGORY: I think he really kind of crossed that line.

It's one thing to say, look, I have kind of awakened to what Trump is and everything I did and he's done, and I have a problem with it to really sounding partisan.

BORGER: I think he went overboard on that.

And I think he loses -- he lost an audience with that, because he came right out of the box. I don't know whether that was Lanny Davis.

(CROSSTALK)

KING: But just putting Lanny behind him is going to allow every host on FOX News to say the Clintons.

(CROSSTALK)

BORGER: ... when this tape came up, this alleged tape in an elevator of Donald Trump allegedly hitting his wife.

And Cohen came right out and said, he would never do that.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: He would never do it. There's no evidence for it. I don't believe the tape exists.

(CROSSTALK)

BORGER: Yes, we looked for it.

The fact that they even thought they had to look for it is an interesting point. But we looked for it. We never found it. I don't believe Mr. Trump would ever do that.

I think that helped his credibility.

KING: That did. That moment did, yes.

TAPPER: Everyone, stick around.

We're going to take a very quick break.

Moments from now, Michael Cohen will resume his testimony. We're also getting reaction from the Trump team.

Stand by. This is CNN's special live coverage. Back after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:18:37]

TAPPER: Welcome back. I'm Jake Tapper live in Washington.

Michael Cohen is getting ready to continue his testimony just minutes from now. We know President Trump planned to watch his former attorney's testimony from Hanoi, Vietnam, where it's the middle of the night right now.

The president has been active on Twitter, retweeting something critical of Cohen once at the beginning of his testimony.

But someone who's definitely watching the hearing, North Korean officials.

Here's former U.S. Representative Joseph Yun.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOSEPH YUN, FORMER U.S. SPECIAL REPRESENTATIVE FOR NORTH KOREA POLICY: They follow these issues so closely.

I mean, let me give you my own experience. This was about, what, December 2017 when really a lot of bad stuff was still going around. I was then working for Rex Tillerson.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Secretary of state at the time.

YUN: Right. Mm-hmm.

And I was trying to get a meeting for him to meet with his North Korean counterpart. And so I called up my contact. They referred the question, came back to me the following day. They said, you know, we think Rex is going to get fired, so we don't want to see him, you know?

They follow these issues. They know what's going to happen. And, believe me, you know, they read "New York Times," as well as you or I. They watch you, you know? So they know what is going on.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: That's former U.S. representative for North Korea policy Joseph Yun.

[15:20:00]

Before Cohen's hearing began, the president had dinner with North Korea leader Kim Jong-un.

CNN White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins is live in Hanoi traveling with the president.

The president apparently told lawmakers, Kaitlan, that he was worried that Cohen's testimony would distract from the summit?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Jake, he's bothered by it. That's according to what Senator Lindsey Graham told my colleague Sunlen Serfaty, that when he spoke with the president last night, that the president was complaining about the fact that there are going to be two headlines out there, Michael Cohen testifying and the president's historic summit here in Hanoi with Kim Jong-un.

Now, Michael Cohen invoked the president several times during his testimony so far, but there was one point in his opening statement, Jake, where he looked directly into the camera and brought up the fact that the president is in Vietnam right now.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COHEN: Mr. Trump claimed it was because of a bone spur, but when I asked for medical records, he gave me none, and said that there was no surgery. He told me not to answer the specific questions by reporters, but rather offer simply the fact that he received a medical deferment.

He finished the conversation with the following comment. "You think I'm stupid? I'm not going to Vietnam."

And I find it ironic, Mr. President, that you are in Vietnam right now.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COLLINS: Now, Jake, you brought up the president's dinner with Kim Jong-un U.N. earlier in the evening. Right before that dinner, after they had first shaken hands, first come face to face, a reporter asked the president about his reaction to Michael Cohen's congressional testimony.

Now, the president didn't respond. Instead, he just shook his head. But, later, White House officials abruptly banned four reporters from going into the president's dinner to cover it, reporters who are part of the pool spray going in there in a limited number. And they said it was because of the shouted questions that had been shouted at the president earlier during that meet-and-greet with Kim Jong-un.

One of those questions, of course, being Michael Cohen, and showing you, Jake, that the president's problems have followed him here all the way to Hanoi.

TAPPER: Kaitlan Collins, thank you so much.

Stand by, everyone. Michael Cohen is getting ready to take his seat in the hearing room. His testimony will continue.

We're going to squeeze in this quick break. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:26:59]

TAPPER: As we await Michael Cohen's testimony to resume in just minutes, we have just learned that Republican Congressman Matt Gaetz is now being investigated by the Florida bar for that tweet he sent out regarding Cohen.

Here's the initial tweet -- quote -- "Hey, Michael Cohen, do your wife and father-in-law know about your girlfriends? Maybe tonight would be a good time for that chat. I wonder if she will remain faithful when you're in prison. She's about to learn a lot."

I think it's fair to call that a threatening tweet from a Republican congressman and Trump loyalist. Gaetz later deleted the tweet. He apologized. His communications director just responded to the fact that the Florida bar is investigating, saying -- quote -- "It seems that the Florida bar by its rules is required to investigate even the most frivolous of complaints."

Elie, let me bring you in. Is it a frivolous complaint?

ELIE HONIG, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: No.

If all that happens is the Florida bar investigates, he's lucky, because I think prosecutors should be taking a hard look at it. It's impossible to look at that tweet without seeing an intent to intimidate, right?

I used to do mafia cases. That was the kind of stuff you would see out of real-life New York City Cosa Nostra gangsters.

Another thing that caught my eyes is, in the beginning of the proceeding today, there was a shot of Representative Gaetz walking through the committee.

TAPPER: Here it is. Here's the shot right there.

HONIG: There you go. Perfect.

TAPPER: He's not a member of the committee, right.

HONIG: He's on the committee.

But I will tell you what that brought to mind. Again, the mob would strategically send people into court to sit in the gallery, depending on who was on the stand, Gloria.

So maybe it would be an ex-wife. Maybe it would be someone who they had a beef with, a problem with. But there's messages being sent. And I saw that, and I was sitting in the green room with Carl Bernstein. And he said the same thing. I think he was trying to send a message there further to the intimidation.

TAPPER: Or a mobster's long lost brother.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: I have seen "Godfather II" too many times, I guess.

(CROSSTALK)

TOOBIN: But Frank Pentangeli...

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: Frank Pentangeli, mentioned by Roger Stone.

(CROSSTALK)

TOOBIN: Part of the case. (CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: One other thing I wanted to ask about is, Congressman Jim Jordan, the ranking Republican on the Government Oversight Committee, really doing a lot to emphasize all the reasons people should not believe Michael Cohen.

And certainly there are a great number of them, but he's suggesting, Dana, that the reason that Cohen is there is because he didn't get a job in the White House.

I think there's a much more obvious reason that Michael Cohen is there. And it's not because he didn't get that job that we know he was seeking at one point.

BASH: Which is that he's going to jail, right, right?

And I think the brilliant analysis to that is, duh. I mean, there's -- yes, let's just start with the idea that Michael Cohen says that he didn't necessarily want to go the White House. That's not our reporting. And Gloria can speak to that better than I.

TAPPER: It's not the Southern District of New York's reporting either.

BASH: And it's not -- and it's in the sentencing memo, but not getting a job in the White House would not plant Michael Cohen in the witness chair tonight. It just wouldn't.

The fact that he -- his office was raided, his home was raided, he was under incredible pressure to give as much information as he could to reduce the sentence, and he's going to jail.

And you know the law on this, but, more broadly, by the lay -- layman's terms, he could potentially reduce his sentence by talking before Congress today.