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Cohen, Trump is "A Racist, A Con Man, A Cheat; Cohen, Trump "Made Clear to Me, He Wanted Me to Lie"; Cohen, Trump Knew Roger Stone Had Spoken with WikiLeaks About DNC E-Mail Leak; Cohen, Trump Repaid Me for Hush Money to Porn Star. Aired 3:30-4p ET

Aired February 27, 2019 - 15:30   ET


[15:30:00] DANA BASH, CNN, CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Do you know the laws on this? But more broadly by layman's terms, he could potentially reduce his sentence by talking before Congress today. He's not going to reduce his he's not going to reduce his sentence.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: By being cooperative. And if he gets caught in a lie, he's not can reduce his sentence. Remember the southern district of New York --

BASH: They could extend it.

-- and Mueller. So for all the Republicans saying he's lying, if he lies again, he's not going to help his case.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Let's bring it back to the larger issue of the potential conspiracy investigation that's going on and what exactly the President knew and when he knew it. Because Michael Cohen is suggesting that President Trump, then candidate Trump, was tipped off as to what WikiLeaks was going to dump during the campaign of 2016. Let's roll a little bit of that testimony if we can.


MICHAEL COHEN, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S FORMER PERSONAL LAWYER: A lot of people have asked me about whether Mr. Trump knew from Roger Stone in advance about the WikiLeaks drop of e-mails in July 2016 days before the Democratic convention. I was in Mr. Trump's office when his secretary announced that Roger Stone was on the phone. Mr. Trump put Mr. Stone on the speakerphone. Mr. Stone told Mr. Trump that he had just gotten off the phone with Julian Assange. And that Mr. Assange told Mr. Stone that within a couple of days there would be a massive dump of e-mails that would damage Hillary Clinton's campaign. Mr. Trump responded by stating to the effect, wouldn't that be great?


TAPPER: Needless to say that is what happened right before the Democratic National Convention. This trove of e-mails appeared that had been hacked by the Russians, the intelligence community says, that made -- wreaked havoc in the DNC.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes, it's big if true and there's no way necessarily of corroborating this. Right. Because it wasn't clear that anybody else was in the room. It wasn't clear that he for instance taped this conversation. It's not even clear if Roger Stone in this instance would have been telling the truth because we know how Roger Stone is. And one of the Republicans made the point that by this time it was essentially public knowledge. I think there was an article in "The Guardian" or something, that somebody held up that essentially said Julian Assange had said that he had these e-mails. But listen, that was a big moment. It was a big revelation. Whether it could be corroborated it's not clear.

Another thing that came up was whether or not at any point Donald Trump said, well, maybe this is something we should talk to the FBI about, somebody asked Cohen that and he said, no. That wasn't something that came up.

KING: And the question is, it's just, look, Roger-- Roger's a known bull shitter -- forgive my language. So is he just doing this to hype his influence with the press? There are a lot of Republicans in town who will tell you that Roger was telling them back then that he had an in with WikiLeaks that he had an in with Assange. Most of them didn't belieeve him. Because they don't belieeve anything Roger says. But if he did that's a big deal.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: A lot of people were asked by Mueller about that. You see a number who got an e-mail saying, you know, having dinner or drinks with Assange tonight and that turned out, of course. And that number said well I just thought that was just Roger talking himself up being Roger. Your point, John.

TAPPER: So many liars in this story whether it's Roger Stone indicted for lying, Michael Cohen going to jail partially for lying, the President does not hue to the facts. It is fair to say.

BASH: Well he told Michael Cohen to lie explicitly he's saying about the hush money payment.

TAPPER: If you belieeve that liar about that guy, sure, but I guess the point is, that's why the documentary evidence is so important.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: That's why this check, this canceled check from Donald Trump is so important because you can't cross examine a check. It is there. You can try to explain it away, but it's awfully hard to explain away especially if there are 11 checks.

Now, it's just one of the peculiar aspects of how the Republicans have attacked him. You know, all this constant stuff about a book deal and you're a liar, you're a liar. Why not simply say -- there are three people in this alleged conversation, there's Donald Trump, there's Roger Stone and there's Michael Cohen. Two of them say it never happened but you say it happened. Isn't that -- I mean, that's a pretty good argument against what Michael Cohen is saying. Now you can perhaps say the other two are lying, but I mean, it's just why not just do that simple thing, rather than you're conspiring to get a book deal three years from now. DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I do think it's significant

because we know through the Mueller indictments that we've learned about so far that there's a connection with Russian intelligence trying to interfere in the election. And then we know about Roger Stone's even bragging about WikiLeaks, which he says was public information. If there is a link between Trump and those efforts, when we know Trump was saying, hey, we're open for business.

[15:35:00] Why wouldn't you accept any opposition research on somebody that you're running against calling for the Russians to find missing e-mails by hacking, you know -- by hacking computers. So we know about some of the things he said. But the key point is that this Congressional committee is not anywhere near as thorough -- to your point -- as Mueller and his team.

TOOBIN: Right.

GREGORY: And that's what matters.

TAPPER: Let me just ask you. Let's assume, just for the sake of argument, let's take Michael Cohen at his word. And that President Trump knew ahead of time about that Trump Tower meeting and that Roger Stone tipped him off that WikiLeaks was going to dump a tranche of e- mails that could be damaging to Hillary Clinton. Are either of those crimes?

ELIE HONIG, FORMER ASSISTANT U.S. ATTORNEY, SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK: Yes, both of them could be. So on the WikiLeaks. It depends how much he knew and when he knew it. But if he knew it early enough and he encourages it, he could be part of the conspiracy. And I think Michael Cohen's testimony was, Trump says something like that would be great. Right. It doesn't take much more than that to become part of a conspiracy. Jeff knows, you can become part of the conspiracy --

TOOBIN: You really think so? Do you think hearing that this hacking is going on and saying, that would be great, you think that's --?

HONIG: If you're the President of the United States, yes.

TAPPER: Well he was a candidate at the time.

HONIG: Or a likely front-runner for the candidacy -- for the nomination, sure, because they need --

TOOBIN: That's a crime simply to say it's good that this is happening.

HONIG: I think the argument it is. And or eating and abetting.

TAPPER: Prosecutors are very aggressive, Jeffrey.

This is a journalist versus somebody from the southern district of New York.

TOOBIN: Listen, if it is to be -- HONIG: If it's a powerful person -- if it's a powerful person and you

understand we need this person's blessing to continue and he says that would be great, I see that as the blessing. I see that as him becoming part of the conspiracy and I see that as him being an aider and abettor.

TAPPER: What about the Trump Tower part? What about it?

HONIG: Yes, so the Trump Tower meeting is, again, it's not right down the middle. It's not the kind of charge you would bring and feel wonderful about. But there are some things on that outer boundary of the law. Look, if they're conspiring, if Trump's in on a plan let's try to get these e-mails. What they belieeved at the time was the hacked emails from the Russians. It is a federal crime to obtain foreign election contributions, or to solicit foreign election contributions. Clearly those e-mails would have had value, I think. And so, you have to construct an argument where Trump and others around him conspired, agreed, let's try to get this stuff even if it never came to fruition, it doesn't seem like it did, still would be a conspiracy. It's not the best argument.

TAPPER: Let me just say, at the beginning of my question for you, I said let's assume for the sake of argument that Michael Cohen's telling the truth, that's a big assumption. Michael Cohen is going to jail because he lied to Congress. But part of today, part of all of this is this mea culpa that he's on. Let's play just a little bit of his apology.


COHEN: For those who question my motives for being here today, I understand. I have lied, but I am not a liar. And I have done bad things, but I am not a bad man. I have fixed things, but I am no longer your fixer, Mr. Trump.


TAPPER: Dana, how credible was he to people in the room or was it just the Rorschach test of Washington? Democrats all somebody they liked because he was saying things about -- bad about the President and vice versa with the Republicans.

BASH: Look, I think a lot of it is the Rorschach test. But it seems like a long time ago now. You have to go back to the opening, the table that Eliejah Cummins, the chairman, said was really important. Because he went after Michael Cohen. And he said, talked about the elephant in the room. You are not credible. You came before this committee and lied to us, so it is up to you to prove your worth. To prove you are now credible and that you've seen the light. And so that was obviously intentional in order for the Democrats to feel that they could have more credibility with their questioning and with the witness. Whether or not that, you know, sees the light of day, we don't know. But I think that is the political question and we still don't have the answers to the legal questions, which is corroboration.

BORGER: Nothing happens in a vacuum, though. It compares to whom. So if you look at Michael Cohen's credibility -- and we've been talking about this all day. But who are you comparing him to? You are comparing him, you know, is the pot and the kettle. You're comparing him to Donald Trump. And so as the public watches this, you know, I don't know how many minds it changed.


BORGER: Today.

TOOBIN: Can, I guess?

BORGER: You can guess zero. You can guess -- you know, you can guess zero. But the question -- I mean, and this is a legal question, not a political question. Is the Presidential phone call that was made in February 2018, according to Michael Cohen, a journalist was present, she didn't hear the whole thing in which it was very clear he wanted Cohen to make sure that he protected him on the payments to Stormy Daniels. I think that's a real problem for the President.

[15:40:00] And I don't know whether that's Southern District of New York or how that would be investigated. But I think that's not just an issue of who do you belieeve, I think it's an issue of can we get some record of this.

TAPPER: Everyone stick around. Michael Cohen also said the President is a racist citing specific remarks that the President Trump allegedly made in private conversations. We're going to discuss that as we await Cohen's testimony just moments away. Stay with us.


TAPPER: Members of the House oversight committee are coming back to the hearing room after they voted on the floor of the House. We're moments away from Michael Cohen continuing his testimony before that committee. Earlier Cohen offered a personal anecdote explaining why he thinks President Trump is a racist.


COHEN: Mr. Trump is a racist. The country has seen Mr. Trump court white supremacist and bigots. You have heard him call poorer countries shit holes. His private, in private, he is even worst. He once asked me if I can name a country run by a black person that wasn't a shit hole. This was when Barack Obama was President of the United States. And while we were once driving through struggling neighborhood in Chicago, he commented that only black people could live that way. And he told me that black people would never vote for him because they were too stupid.


TAPPER: Well, if the President said all that that's certainly racist. Let's talk about it. John King, I guess one of the questions I have about this line of his argument is, first of all, it's all heinous, but it's not illegal. And second of all, how much of that do you think politically is already baked in to the public perception of Donald Trump?

KING: Well you've seen that play out, whether it's Kamala Harris giving an interview this week saying she belieeves the President's a racist. Democratic politicians get asked about this a lot. You saw in the -- you saw African-American members of the committee step up and tell Mr. Cohen they belieeved he was right. There's no question what the President said. Let's just use Charlottesville as in example, was reprehensible. You can ask the question, a deliecate one, what's the role in this particular hearing if the idea is to explore crimes or potential crimes or illegalities or regulatory, if it's a campaign finance issue. Maybe it's not a crime by the President. Does it fit there? That's a fair question.

But it's clear that Michael Cohen as part of what he would call his redemption tour wants to apologize for working for a man that he thinks was reprehensible in many ways, not just in terms of the right and wrong of legal issues. That he now wants to say everyone was a horrible person and I knew it and I work for him and I'm sorry.

HENDERSON: But it also seems to be one of the things that Cohen kept coming back to was, he knows Trump in a way that nobody else does, right? The folks on the panel, particularly Republicans, would say, oh, they have had conversations with him, many conversations with him where he would say I've been in meetings with him, I traveled with him, I worked for ten years for him, that was part of what he was doing there. Essentially putting people -- painting a picture of him in the room with Donald Trump on any number of occasions, in this case at least he's saying that he was in a car with Donald Trump and going through a neighborhood in Chicago. So I think that was the point there basically saying, I was there. I know him. You don't.

TAPPER: And again, obviously it's important if the President is racist.

HENDERSON: Of course.

TAPPER: But again, racism, racist thoughts and words are not crimes. Do you think, do you see -- and we don't know this right now -- but do you see the hand of Lanny Davis in here?


TAPPER: In the inclusion of these horrific, horrific thoughts and words in the testimony?

BORGER: We don't know for sure. I was texting with somebody who knows Michael Cohen very well who was upset about all of this being included in the testimony. Because he thinks it weakened Cohen's case on the other issues about the President. Which the committee was directly addressing and he felt that it wasn't necessary and he blamed Lanny Davis for it, but we don't know that to be the case at all. Maybe this is something that Michael Cohen has kept with him and I know that this is testimony he's thought long and hard about and if this was his way of unburdening himself about his tenure with Donald Trump and apologizing, doing his mea culpa as you put it, maybe he felt the need to say, you know, he was a racist, he was a cheat, he was a conman and you know what, I put up with all of that and for that I apologize.

BASH: He was intoxicated by it.

BORGER: Right and this could have come -- you know, this could have come from Michael Cohen saying I'm just going to put everything all out there because I'm embarrassed and ashamed.

TAPPER: Nia let me just ask one of the points we talked about this earlier, but since it's a relevant specifically to this conversation. Congressman Mark Meadows, an ally of the President, head of the Freedom Caucus, basically in case of emergency break glass and brought out Lynn Patton, a former Trump organization employee who now works at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, an African-American woman, she didn't say anything but --

HENDERSON: She just stood there.

TAPPER: -- and testified that she does not think the President's a racist.

[15:50:00] HENDERSON: Yes, you know, just her very presence was, I guess, argument against the President's racism. I think at some point Cohen said, well how many black executives are at the Trump organization? She was like an event planner. I think she worked for the heir Trump Foundation. I think she planned some weddings for them as well. So it was a very odd and awkward moment. Racism isn't about how you treat the one black person you know or the one black person who works for you. It's about how you see African-Americans more generally or Latinos. So I thought it was a bad moment for her, a bad moment for Mark Meadows and -- yes.

TAPPER: It's also just the (INAUDIBLE) of the Republican Party.

HENDERSON: They don't really get race.

TAPPER: There were African Americans on the Democratic side of the aisle who are members of Congress.


TAPPER: There weren't any on the Republican side.

TOOBIN: One of the great things about the House of Representatives, is that it really is the people's House. And you can get a sense of the parties just by listening to the accents of people. I mean the Republican Party is largely Southern. It's largely male. And the Democratic Party is not. I mean it's just -- it is a much more diverse party. It also happens to be the party where they haven't won many Presidential elections at least in the electoral college recently. But, you know, it's just the parties are very different now. It's a very polarized Congress and is a polarized country. And you just see it looking at this committee.

TAPPER: David, I want to bring in another topic that came up during the hearing. During the hearing Cohen suggested that there were other circumstances when the "National Enquirer's" parent company, AMI, caught and killed, that is paid for the life rights of a story that would be damaging about President Trump and then buried it so it never appeared. Take a listen.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Were other women paid sexual hush money by Donald Trump or his organization? Was this a standard operating practice?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So you're not aware of any other cases where it'd taken place.

COHEN: I'm not aware of any other case that Mr. Trump paid. Which brings us to the Karen McDougal. He was supposed to pay. He was supposed to pay $125,000 for the life story of Karen McDougal. For whatever the reason, maybe he elected not to pay it. David Packer was very angry because there were also other monies that David had expended on his behalf. Unfortunately, David never got paid back for that either.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So, David Packer had done this in other cases of other mistresses or women?

COHEN: Other circumstances, yes.


COHEN: Not all of them had to do with women.


GREGORY: There is a lot potentially there, right. I mean, not only other women but other circumstances where there may have been embarrassing stories. I mean, this is the part of Cohen's testimony to Nia's point about being in the room, being close to Trump, capturing how he talked, how he operated and there may be a lot more there. And what Cohen was trying to do today I thought some of it seemed very partisan. Above all he wants to hurt Donald Trump.

TAPPER: Is any of that illegal? I know that David Pecker, the CEO of AMI, which owns National Enquirer, came into a cooperative deal with the Southern District of New York. So, he will not be prosecuted. Is catch and kill, is there anything problematic with the law now?

HONIG: Per se, no. There is nothing illegal. It's distasteful and I think there's serious media ethics issues there. But it's not illegal per se. But here's the problem. You to book that money somehow. And very few people are going to put it on the books as payment for catch and kill. They are going to disguise it. And then you get into potential taxation implications. If you intentionally falsify the books, which I think you always would when you're paying for catch and kill. That could impact what your tax liability is. There could be money laundering if they're trying to move money through in a way that disguises the fact that it's related to a crime. And also, we saw with Stormy Daniels it is intended to disguise a campaign contribution. So there's another one.

GREGORY: We haven't seen his returns. I mean, that's why the question about his business dealings is so important. What did Donald Trump do as a private citizen, as a businessman that the American people have no idea about?

BASH: I don't think that we should really put media ethics and the "National Enquirer" in the same sentence or category.

GREGORY: I said raises questions about it.

Bash: Yes, exactly. I mean, just so people understand this is a completely -- it's anathema to normal news organizations like ours that the "National Enquirer" is in a whole different ballgame. And that's the point. I mean one of the points is, OK, this guy is running this tabloid and he is in bed with this candidate and trying to help put away bad stories. Maybe not illegal but it's one more example of how dirty Michael Cohen is saying this guy is.

TAPPER: And we should just note very quickly, the "National Enquirer" is involved in a scandal right now. Because they broke the story of a personal life of the adulterous relationship that Jeff Bezos, who owns Amazon, the CEO of Amazon. And also, who owns "The Washington Post".

[15:55:00] Which President Trump hates and hates the coverage from "The Washington Post" because they're aggressive and they're an excellent newspaper and they cover him aggressively as they should. And the "National Enquirer" is trying to smear him, trying to tell the story -- intimate details, embarrassing details. Even offering to bury provocative pictures that they have if Jeff Bezos stopped criticizing the "National Enquirer".

TOOBIN: Right. And it relates to this story. Because one of the questions raised by the whole Jeff Bezos controversy is whether, again, the "National Enquirer" is doing the President's bidding as they did with Karen McDougal. I don't think that issue is completely resolved. As for the Bezos story, they say, well it's just a good "National Enquirer" story. But, you know, it is related to this story because of the role of the "National Enquirer".

TAPPER: Standby everyone. Michael Cohen's testimony is going to resume any moment. We're going to squeeze in this quick break. Stay with us.


TAPPER: Welcome to "THE LEAD". I'm Jake Tapper. Right now we are waiting for President Trump's former lawyer to resume his testimony. So far, he has under Congress and the American people made at the very least unsettling claims against the plan that sits inside the oval office.

I'm ashamed that I chose to take part in concealing Mr. Trump's eliecit acts rather than listening to my own conscience. I'm ashamed because I know what Mr. Trump is. He is a racist. He is a con man and he is a cheat. [16:00:00]