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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES
Paul Manafort Sentenced to 47 Months in Prison, Judge Called Sentencing Guidelines o 19-24 Years "Excessive"; Admin Official: Justice Department May Probe Whether Michael Cohen Committed Perjury Over Pardon Claims; Rep. Gerald Connolly (D) Virginia is Interviewed About Paul Manafort's Sentence and Pardon Claims Involving Michael Cohen. Aired on 8-9p ET
Aired March 7, 2019 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[20:00:16] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Good evening.
We begin with breaking news. Paul Manafort, the president's former campaign chairman, is going to prison. He was sentenced late today for defrauding banks, defrauding the federal government, and failing to pay taxes on millions of dollars. His case was, of course, the first of many brought by special counsel Mueller and his day of reckoning today is not going to be his last. He actually has another sentencing date in another courthouse just next week.
Tonight, though, he appears to have gotten off as lightly as anyone could have, and we'll talk plenty about why. Before we go to our correspondents outside the courthouse, we've just gotten pictures of the actual notes that Manafort read from when addressing the judge, T.S. Ellis.
Quoting now from a few of the items: The last two years, Manafort said, have been the most difficult that my family and I have ever experienced. He also said, the person that I have been described as in public is not someone I recognize. To say that I feel humiliated and ashamed would be a gross understatement.
On the next page he said, quoting: Nine months of solitary confinement after seven months of house arrest have affected my physical and mental health, my life professionally and financially is in shambles. I feel the pain and shame.
He goes on to say: Sitting in solitary confinement, I've had much time to reflect about my life and my choices and the importance of family and friends. This reflection, he says, created a desire to turn my notoriety into a positive and show the world who I really am.
The judge seemed sympathetic.
I want to go to our correspondents on the scene in Alexandria, Virginia, just outside Washington. CNN's Evan Perez, he was inside the courtroom. Our Shimon Prokupecz was monitoring developments outside.
Shimon, let me start with you. The sentence certainly far more lenient than many people might have expected.
SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Yes, Anderson, exactly. Far more -- and prosecutors here were recommending a prison sentence of 19 to 24 years for Paul Manafort.
The judge listening to Paul Manafort. He spoke to the judge. He came in court in his wheelchair. He sat there, he spoke to the judge. He asked for compassion.
And the judge in the end agreed, giving him the 47 months, far less than what prosecutors here had been asking for, the 19 to 24 years.
COOPER: Evan, what did the judge say to Manafort and about Manafort during the sentencing?
EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, a couple of interesting things happened in the courtroom, Anderson, is obviously we saw Paul Manafort get wheeled in. And you know, the picture of him with the green jumpsuit wearing, it says "Alexandria inmate." And the judge, one of the things he talked about is about the impact of seeing him in that jumpsuit and in that wheelchair.
But he said life is about choices. And he says, you made a choice to engage in criminal conduct. He took a couple shots at the special counsel. As you know, this is a judge who's shown some skepticism for the fact that this was a case that was tried by the special counsel and not by the regular Justice Department. He made sure he mentioned that one of the things he was not going to take into account was any conduct, any idea, any allegation that Paul Manafort was engaged with collusion, colluding with the Russians to influence the 2016 election.
So, he -- you know, he could tell that he was -- he had that on his mind while at the same time really telling Paul Manafort that he had committed a serious crime.
COOPER: And, Shimon, this is the same judge who a while ago basically said to the Mueller prosecutors that they were trying to essentially punish Paul Manafort in order to get him to flip.
So, early on he seemed to certainly have a viewpoint, correct?
PROKUPECZ: Yes. That's exactly right, Anderson. And also remember that this judge was pretty hard on the special counsel team, on the prosecutors during this trial. There were a lot of stories written. We certainly did a lot of stories just about the treatment that the judge gave prosecutors.
I think it was very clear from the beginning that the judge here took issue with how the special counsel went about their case. He certainly felt they were going after Paul Manafort because they wanted him to cooperate, they were trying to put pressure on him. At one point, if you'll remember, he even said that you're trying to do this, you're trying to get him to cooperate because you want to go after the president, you want to go after Trump.
And if you remember, the president seized on these comments. So, certainly this judge has not hidden the fact that he has not been happy with the prosecutors in this case, has not been happy with the special counsel's office. And, you know, going into this I certainly wondered, as well as others have, whether or not that would play a role in the sentence.
[20:05:00] Now, it's not very clear from his comments that necessarily that's the case. But you have to wonder if that played a role in his ultimate decision in giving Paul Manafort just 47 months in prison.
COOPER: Evan, as we said, you were inside. Manafort spoke, and we just read just a little bit of what he said. Did he -- did he seem in the courtroom genuinely remorseful? I mean, he talked about kind of the importance of family and that's what he's learned and friends and he's on a mission to show the world who he really is. He didn't recognize himself as how he was being described.
Was he remorseful for the crimes he committed?
PEREZ: Well, you know, he did seem like this moment certainly was weighing on him. And I think he was trying to show some remorse. But the words he spoke didn't really express that. And the judge called him on it. He said I'm surprised that I didn't hear you express regret. He said I hope you reflect on that because he said these are serious crimes and he never really said those exact words.
One of the things that I think we're all struck by, that you could hear a pin drop in the room. Certainly all the prosecutors were watching Paul Manafort as he spoke. And you know, after he spoke for about four minutes, after he made those comments, some of which you just read, Anderson, he turned to his wife. You could see his eyes were moist. And certainly she was looking at him as well.
So, look, I think for Paul Manafort, having seen him when he first was indicted and he was showing up to court with these tailored suits and certainly we knew a little bit about his extravagant lifestyle, this is a change. This is a different man. You know, he's a lot thinner. He's a lot grayer. And you could certainly see that all of this was coming down on him today as he was waiting to hear from the judge how much time he's going to spend in prison.
COOPER: Shimon, this isn't over for Manafort as you mentioned. He's facing sentencing in front of another judge in a D.C. court next week.
PROKUPECZ: Right. That happens next week in D.C. and that's where, remember, he pleaded guilty and he was willing to cooperate and then he started lying. The judge found that he did lie. So, we'll see.
He's facing about ten years there. Keep in mind he's already served about nine months while he's been awaiting sentencing here and trial in D.C. So that's going to hopefully -- I think what his team would like for that to count toward the sentence he's been served. The judge, interestingly enough in this case, after the sentencing said he wanted the nine months to count towards the prison time that he sentenced Paul Manafort to.
So, really, right now, Paul Manafort is face just about three years more in prison. Next week will be a big week because he could, could get up to ten years from the judge in Washington, D.C. So that's certainly not over. Keep in mind, that judge is the one who put Manafort in jail because he violated the conditions of his release.
Remember, he's been accused of tampering with a witness. That trial also is where we've seen hints perhaps of the Russian collusion that so many of us have been talking about and reporting on. That is -- in that case, there were allegations made -- he was not charged for it but there were allegations made that Paul Manafort shared internal Trump campaign data with a Russian operative. So, all of that came up in that trial.
But most significant obviously this part is over for Paul Manafort. But there's still one more part to go. And that is the case in D.C., Anderson, as you say, where he's facing about ten years or so. More in prison.
But the judge could run that sentence concurrent. So he could only be getting a couple more years. But we'll see what happens next week.
COOPER: All right. Shimon Prokupecz, Evan, appreciate it. Thank you very much.
For the latest reaction of the White House, let's go to Jim Acosta, who's been talking to folks there.
Has the president or the White House reacted?
JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, the president has not weighed in just yet. He did weigh in on Michael Cohen earlier today and talking about what Michael Cohen had testified last week.
But Kellyanne Conway, the White House counselor, she was talking to reporters just before this sentence came down. And when it was all anticipated as Evan and Shimon were talking about a few moments ago that Paul Manafort was going to receive a much more severe sentence, Kellyanne Conway was showing some sympathy to the former campaign chairman for President Trump during the campaign, and here's what she had to say to reporters.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KELLYANNE CONWAY, WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL: It did seem that what their sentence maybe was much more than perhaps other people get for bigger crimes.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ACOSTA: Very brief statement there. But she was asked a follow-up question. She was asked whether or not the president is still considering a pardon for Paul Manafort, whether that has been ruled out over here at the White House.
And Kellyanne Conway says she had not heard that. Now, of course, we know late last year the president was sort of dangling this out there, that potentially Paul Manafort might get a pardon. And, of course, a lot of people in Washington have been suspecting all along that the reason why Paul Manafort has really, you know, stayed in the Trump camp, stayed in the good graces of the president throughout all of this is because he expects at some point he may indeed receive a pardon, Anderson.
[20:10:14] COOPER: In the case Manafort's going to be sentenced for next week, has the White House said anything about that case?
ACOSTA: Not much. I mean, one of the things we have heard and perhaps we'll hear it again from the president the next time he talks about this, I tried to talk to the president earlier today about Michael Cohen. He heard the question. He didn't answer it.
But what the president has said in the past is Paul Manafort had this very limited role with the campaign. Of course, we know that's not the case. He spent five or six months leading this campaign, was the campaign chairman, helped rally the delegates in Cleveland at the convention and make sure that Donald Trump was nominated as the Republican nominee.
But I suspect we'll hear more of that in the days ahead, more sympathetic words coming from this White House. And, Anderson, all you have to do is hold that up against what the president has said about Michael Cohen, he's called him a rat and so on. He's very much described Paul Manafort in a very different way, basically describing him as a loyal soldier who's endured a lot.
And perhaps at the end of all this, Anderson, we may see the president give him a pardon because of that loyalty -- Anderson.
COOPER: Imagine if there is to be a pardon, it might not come right away. First of all, there's this other case. So obviously, they'd want to see what the Washington court decides, the D.C. court decides.
ACOSTA: That's right.
COOPER: But a pardon could be done at any time during a president's administration, even in the waning hours.
ACOSTA: And I talked to an administration official earlier today talking about the Michael Cohen case. You know, this official was saying perhaps they need to look at whether or not Michael Cohen perjured himself last week. That's a totally different discussion.
But this administration official made it very clear to me the president has the power of the pardon and that is something that the president can do at any time, Anderson.
COOPER: Yes, we're going to talk about the strange case of Michael Cohen and whether or not he asked for a pardon coming up. Jim, thanks very much.
ACOSTA: That's right.
COOPER: Let's get perspective now from CNN legal analyst Carrie Cordero, Ken Cuccinelli, the former Republican attorney general the commonwealth of Virginia, former Republican prosecutor Shan Wu, and chief CNN political analyst Gloria Borger.
Gloria, the light sentence certainly a surprise to some.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, I think it was a surprise to a lot of people. I mean, inside the courtroom today the prosecutors were arguing for a substantial sentence, and when the judge pointed out wait a minute, Manafort was with you guys for 50 hours when he was cooperating with you, the prosecutors said, we spent 50 hours with him because we basically had to deconstruct his lies to us, and that's why it took us such a long time.
So, the prosecutors are arguing for the 19 to 25-year range and then Judge Ellis comes up with this much shorter sentence, which includes, you know, the eight or nine months for time served. And I think everybody's going to turn to D.C. and see what Judge Jackson does next week on this other sentencing which is up to ten years and whether she decides that it can be served, whatever she decides he should serve, whether it should be served concurrently or not.
COOPER: Shan, you're a former federal prosecutor. Can you explain why a judge would give the sentencing that he did when he was facing up to 24 years?
SHAN WU, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: I will say earlier today I went out on a low-hanging limb and I predicted six to eight years. And even that was a little bit too optimistic in terms of the lightness of the sentence. Very light sentence.
So, this to me, Anderson, is a case of the defense team having made some good strategic choices. They read this court well. Remember, way back in the beginning, they had the choice of keeping both sets of charges in D.C. They chose to bifurcate and try one fight in Virginia, one fight in D.C.
Sometimes that's against common sense. You don't want to fight on two fronts. That strategy may have paid off because they drew Judge Ellis. And they read him very well for the sentencing.
There's only so much they can do at trial because the facts are the facts. But when it came to sentencing, he had given hints he had concerns that Manafort perhaps had been scrutinized, prosecuted more thoroughly than he would have been had he not been associated with the Mueller probe.
And I think they read that well and they really played on that point and Ellis indeed did go that way. That's what explains his deviation from the sentencing guidelines range.
COOPER: Yes, Ken, the judge telegraphed that early on when he was saying essentially, look, you're going after this guy not because he's so important but because you want to get to the president. I'm wondering, A, what you think of the sentencing and what message you think this sends to others who may be facing prosecution by Mueller if any? KENNETH CUCCINELLI, CNN LEGAL COMMENTATOR: Well, for one, T.S. Ellis,
Judge Ellis is a no-nonsense judge. So when he made the earlier comments you referenced, Anderson, it's not really out of character for him to be blunt in the courtroom.
But I agree with both Shan and Gloria in terms of where this goes. I think that this there first of all maybe be a check on all of us who make our guesses.
[20:15:02] Shan's six to eight-year guess is actually a pretty darn good shot given the way things were setting up.
But there was so much speculation beforehand. I hope this is sort of a check just on speculation. Judge Jackson, if you look at the lead- up for Judge Jackson, it's very different than Judge Ellis. And it's much more negative for Paul. And --
COOPER: Explain in what way.
CUCCINELLI: But -- well, I mean, she decided that he broke his plea deal --
CUCCINELLI: -- by lying, in three of the five instances that the special counsel's office alleged. So that is going to factor in. It's also -- gives you some insight into this judge's perspective on this defendant.
I would expect if there's a longer sentence that's substantial, I would expect them to run concurrently. If it's a really short sentence is the only time I would really expect to see Judge Jackson run it consecutively. But either way Paul Manafort is 69. He's going to be there at least another two years, plus whatever Judge Jackson adds.
COOPER: Yes, Carrie, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Adam Schiff, just tweeted this: The statement by Paul Manafort's lawyer after an already lenient sentence repeating the president's mantra of no collusion was no accident. It was a deliberate appeal for a pardon. One injustice must not follow another.
I'm wondering, do you agree with that?
CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I do think throughout the case there have been a lot of signs from the president that a pardon was a very live issue, and I thought it was more likely than not perhaps that the president would be inclined to pardon Paul Manafort. What's interesting about Judge Ellis's significant downward departure on the sentencing guidelines is I think he just made it harder for the president to pardon Paul Manafort based on this sentence alone.
And that's because since he went so far beneath sentencing guidelines, very hard for the president to now suggest that Paul Manafort has been treated unfairly. He has in fact by Judge Ellis been given a bit of grace. And I think it makes the president's argument harder. He'll have to wait and see what Judge Jackson does before making a decision about a pardon if he's considering it.
CUCCINELLI: Manafort himself --
COOPER: Sorry. Ken?
CUCCINELLI: Manafort himself thanked the judge for a fair trial.
Carrie, though Manafort didn't say he was sorry in court today, expressed no remorse for his crimes, A, if he had do you think he could have received even less jail time? And does it -- does it surprise you that he didn't do that? Do you think that was intentional in terms of looking for a pardon?
CORDERO: Well, I tend to think that the judge made up his mind on this case before he came into court today. There of course is a procedure to go through. Perhaps Paul Manafort could have said something surprising. But I'm inclined to think that the judge based on the documents that were presented and the arguments made by both parties, that the judge kind of knew where he was going to ebbed end up on this case, and the sentence is pretty consistent with the things he said throughout the trial.
As to the pardon, I think the lawyer's statement afterwards certainly does -- it uses that "no collusion" phrase, which is the president and the White House's favorite phrase with respect to the fact that Paul Manafort was not charged in the Eastern District of Virginia with charges related to conspiracy to defraud the United States as it relates to the Russia investigation. So, on that part perhaps the statements coming from the Manafort team are consistent with their requesting a pardon either informally or formally.
COOPER: And, Gloria, the judge also said that Manafort is not before the court for having anything to do with colluding with the Russian government, which is what Schiff is alluding to. It's something surely we can expect the president and his allies to point to.
BORGER: Absolutely. No collusion is the catchword. The judge -- the judge said it, and, you know, the judge is accurate. We don't -- we don't know. We haven't been told what Mueller has on Manafort, if anything, about interference of the Russians in the last election.
So you know, that's sort of an open question right now. But I do think there are these code words going back and forth, and I'll also add that I think one of the reasons that you didn't hear "I am so sorry for what I have done" from Manafort is another signal that he is looking for a pardon. I mean, it's completely clear.
COOPER: Shan, how is the decision made whether -- from the D.C. court whether it's a concurrent sentence, whatever he receives, or not concurrent?
WU: That's really discretionary on the part of the judge. It will depend on whether she feels that the charges in D.C. are sufficiently separate that maybe he ought to be punished in addition to it. Oftentimes -- it's actually not that common an occurrence that the two courts deciding these sentences so close to each other. Oftentimes you'll see the consecutive when they feel the charges are very different than each other.
[20:20:05] So here -- I think there's a good chance that she will run a part of it concurrent but maybe add a little bit to it.
If I could just comment on what Gloria was saying, I actually think and respectfully disagree with --
WU: -- not with Gloria. With the pardon idea.
I actually think that makes it easier to give a pardon here, because the president can now say that look, this judge can say there's no collusion, the judge found this to be a slap on the wrist kind of offense when the prosecutors were overreaching.
WU: I think it actually gives him some more cover to gift pardon.
COOPER: On the topic of the pardon, obviously we talked about a possible pardon for Paul Manafort. There was certainly a lot of talk and controversy regarding conversations about a pardon for Michael Cohen.
What exactly are Cohen and his attorneys now saying about any requests for a presidential pardon for Michael Cohen? Because we all heard what he said under oath just recently.
BORGER: Right. What he said under oath was he never asked for and would not accept a pardon. And there's a lot of controversy swirling about this, and with good reason because as our reporting shows, we're getting different kinds of stories about what actually occurred and when it occurred.
Cohen, we have learned, told Congress over the past week, and we've confirmed this, that his attorney had a discussion about pardons with two of Trump's lawyers. And Cohen himself, we've also learned, has told the congressional committee that he spoke directly to one of Trump's lawyers, Jay Sekulow, about a pardon, although Jay Sekulow denies this.
So, the crux of the matter is was Michael Cohen lying to the committee or was he not? And his attorney, Lanny Davis, is saying you have to look at the timeline here. When he was cooperating with the Trump team and they had a joint defense agreement, they had -- his lawyers had these lawyer to lawyer discussions. And that ended when Michael Cohen declared his independence last July and those conversations stopped and Michael didn't mention that in the committee.
Now, is that perjury? Is that just an oversight? As the chairman of the committee said today, we're just going to have to look into it.
COOPER: Right. Everyone, stay with me. I want to talk to you all about this.
But joining us right now to talk about both stories, Democratic Congressman Gerry Connolly of Virginia who sits on the Oversight Committee.
So, Congressman Connolly, based on everything you've heard about Cohen seeking a pardon from the president, do you believe he lied in front of your committee last week?
REP. GERALD CONNOLLY (D-VA), OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE: I believe it's possible that both things are true, that he directed his attorneys at the time when the White House was dangling the possibility of pardons to explore that. That's not the same as explicitly asking, will you give me a pardon? So he's parsing the language carefully to avoid in fact perjuring himself.
Did that mislead the committee? Was that in and of itself frankly a too clever by half kind of statement? Possibly, yes. Is it perjury? I don't think that's clear.
COOPER: Right. But if you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, you know, there's lies of omission. It's sort of -- it's playing cute with words at the very least.
CONNOLLY: I agree with that.
CONNOLLY: And again, I don't know what was in his mind. Was he mentally reserving after the mutual defense agreement expired? After I decided to turn? Does he make a distinction between exploring something and requesting something?
COOPER: Well, I wonder -- I mean, Cohen also in front of your committee testified he never sought a job at the White House, which according to our reporting, the reporting of many other outlets, is also simply not true. I mean, given that, are you concerned on that front that he might have lied to your committee about not only the -- getting a job at the White House but other things as well?
CONNOLLY: Sure. Look, I said at the hearing this is a very flawed character. That doesn't mean that everything he says is to be discounted. But we're going to have to filter all of his testimony to try to get at the truth.
COOPER: You talk about filter. Would you support a Department of Justice investigation into whether Cohen perjured himself? I mean, the administration seems to be hinting that may already happen.
CONNOLLY: Well, look, I have grave reservations about asking an administration of a president who's at 9,000 lies and counting according to the "Washington Post" to be the adjudicator of the truth in any circumstance. COOPER: Well, so you don't trust the Department of Justice to do an
CONNOLLY: Not under these circumstances. Not separate from the Mueller investigation. No. I would have grave reservations about their ability to conduct a fair and neutral investigation as to this testimony.
COOPER: I want to ask you about Paul Manafort.
[20:25:02] Were you surprised by this sentence?
CONNOLLY: I was. And I would agree with what was said on your panel. Candidly, I'd go further. I mean, Harry Ellis has shown a bias since before the trial began.
I think it's unseemly for a federal judge to express the sentiments he expressed at the time. He should have recused himself frankly from the trial given his attitude. And it's very clear that that bias has come through now in the sentencing. And I just think that raises serious questions about his ability to adjudicate this case in any kind of fair and neutral manner.
And I would hope that Judge Jackson can help compensate for that. And I hope whatever sentence she gives Mr. Manafort is a consecutive sentence so that he spends some real time in jail.
COOPER: All right. Congressman Connolly, appreciate your time. Thank you very much.
CONNOLLY: My pleasure.
COOPER: Back now with Carrie Cordero, Ken Cuccinelli, Shan Wu and Gloria Borger.
Ken, I could sense you want to say something.
CUCCINELLI: Well, one thing Congressman Connolly said there that is shocking is I hope Judge Jackson will compensate for that. So, he wants Judge Jackson to incorporate his view of this sentence today for Paul Manafort being light and so extend her sentence for that reason.
That would be -- first of all, I don't think Judge Jackson is going to do that. Judge Jackson's job as a judge is to look at the case in front of her. And I'm confident she'll do that. So -- but --
COOPER: I'm not sure -- I don't know if he meant --
CUCCINELLI: A request for something like that --
COOPER: I don't know if he meant --
CUCCINELLI: Well, that's what he said, Anderson. That's what he said.
COOPER: You could also -- I mean, we'd have to ask him. But you could also interpret it as something compensates for something else that he feels is an injustice but not intentionally -- I don't know. It's splitting hairs here. I understand your point.
He's actually still here. Let me bring him back in.
Congressman, is that what you meant? That the judge should look at the sentencing that Ellis gave and add on more time because it was in your opinion lenient?
CONNOLLY: No. I didn't mean that. And I'm not surprised Ken Cuccinelli would try to distort what I meant. We're long political foes. So I wouldn't rely on Mr. Cuccinelli to interpret what I meant.
No, I was simply saying I hope that when she looks at the sentence, she looks at the whole picture, unlike Judge Ellis, who clearly brought a bias to it. And I hope that frankly she makes an independent judgment that is I hope a consecutive sentence.
COOPER: All right. Congressman Connolly, I appreciate you still being there. Thank you very much.
CONNOLLY: Thank you.
COOPER: I want to go back to the panel.
Gloria, where does this -- how does this reflect overall on the Mueller investigation? People's perception of it. Because you could very easily look at this if you have doubts about the Mueller investigation and say wait a minute, all this hullabaloo and it's 47 months?
BORGER: That's right. Look, this clearly was a disappointment for the Mueller team today. I think they didn't expect to get this light a sentence.
And again, we don't know what Bob Mueller has, if anything, on Paul Manafort. We do know about him sharing polling with a Russian tied to Russian intelligence. You know, we do know all of these stories about Manafort. But where that will lead Bob Mueller remains to be seen. So the public probably could be a little skeptical this evening.
But again, we're awaiting the Mueller report any day, any week now, if we get to read the whole thing and see the whole thing. So, we'll learn more.
COOPER: Like I said, we're going to leave it there.
Carrie Cordero, appreciate it. Ken Cuccinelli, Shan Wu, Gloria Borger, as always.
On this very busy Thursday night, the question is, does the current tumult surrounding President Trump and his administration the biggest scandal in American history, bigger even than what befell that man, President Nixon in Watergate? That's what co-founders of Axios believe. We'll discuss that, next.
[20:33:30] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: The President's former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, as we've been talking about, was sentenced to prison tonight. He's facing another round of sentencing next week. The President's former attorney and fixer, Michael Cohen, now is at the center of new questions about his truthfulness regarding a presidential pardon.
And as significant as those stories may be, what could be more significant is that we now take it for granted that the President's even had former fixers or campaign chairmen who have committed crimes, payoffs to porn stars are almost all odd -- old hat, and subpoenas and the President calling witnesses rats and on and on. It all seems normal. That's our world.
A lone tweet from the President today illustrates just how much we've all internalized this. "It was not a campaign contribution and there were no violations of the campaign finance laws by me. Fake news."
So there was no context to that, no obvious clue what he was referring to, yet we all knew exactly what he was talking about, the payoff to Cohen for the money that bought the porn star silence about the affair she and the President allegedly had while Melania Trump was home with the newborn baby or perhaps a "Playboy" model catch and kill deal.
So much bad behavior crammed into one single tweet. More importantly, so much water over the dam that the President could shorthand it with no one missing a beat. It is a reminder just of how deep we've gotten into what the founders of "Axios" today called, and I'm quoting, "The biggest political scandal in American history."
How far from normal we are, that we can look at a statement from the President of the United States and say, "Oh, yes, he's talking about the porn star payoff." "Axios" says this scandal or constellation of scandals, really, surpasses even Watergate and the last big scandal before Watergate, the Teapot Dome affair during the Harding administration.
[20:35:01] Perspective now from former Trump campaign aide, Michael Caputo, who we should all mention is not cooperating with the congressional investigators in their latest probe, also "USA Today" columnist and CNN Political Analyst Kirsten Powers, and CNN Presidential Historian Tim Naftali who knows a thing or two about scandals. He used to run the Nixon Presidential Library.
Tim is a historian. Let me start off with you. Do you think "Axios" is right that this is the biggest scandal?
TIM NAFTALI, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: The proof is in the pudding, is in the tasting, so it depends whether or not President Trump leaves office before the end of his term.
COOPER: So it's too soon to know. NAFTALI: Absolutely. The reason why the Watergate scandal is the top scandal in American presidential history is that it forced a president to leave office. That's what makes it the top scandal.
When I think about what we're facing at the moment, I think of four different baskets of scandals. The first is a country espionage study of Russian intervention in the 2016 campaign and Americans who may or may not have helped Russia. The second basket is obstruction of justice, efforts by people to obstruct the investigation of Russian intervention.
The third basket are these campaign finance violations, the hush money to Stormy Daniels. And the fourth basket is the abuse of power basket where the President may have misused his power. An example is what Jane Mayer has reported on with regard to the antitrust investigation regarding actually Time Warner and this network. Those are four different baskets. If these do not lead to a premature end to the Trump administration, then it doesn't surpass Watergate.
COOPER: Michael, I mean I know clearly you have deep skepticism about, you know, any conspiracy with Russia. I'm wondering what you make of this idea. Do you agree it's just, a, too soon to know and where are you on this?
MICHAEL CAPUTO, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN AIDE: I agree I think literally the jury is out on this, right? It's not over yet. But in Watergate, you know, if you look at -- most of the attorneys I talked to, they count heads, they count charges, they count guilty pleas. In Watergate we had 69 charged, 48 people and 20 corporations found guilty. In the Mueller investigation so far, only 27 people charged, only 7 people found guilty.
I also didn't like in the "Axios" piece the whole idea that they were laying out through that there was a foreign power involved. That's just not true. There's no charges of collusion, no guilty pleas on collusion. And in the end, you know, we have some Russians who were indicted but we're never going to see them in court. They're never going to darken a courtroom door.
And in fact, those Russians really don't intersect with the campaign at all. It's almost like window dressing on this prosecutor's whole gambit. And I think in the end we're going to look back at this thing. It's not going to be nearly as serious as we think it is now.
I think we're going to look back at it in some ways like a political charade trying to weave Russia into the Trump campaign, surely people think did some things wrong. Look at what Paul did wrong, those are real crimes. I don't think history's going to look back on this and judge the major players who exaggerated this very well.
COOPER: Right. But -- I mean, there was, you know, a Russian attorney who met with the Trump folks and explained to them that Russia wanted Trump to win.
CAPUTO: And nothing happened after that. And nobody's been charged on anything in that at all. COOPER: Right.
CAPUTO: So, I mean -- and of course, we're not done yet. And Mueller's report, although it's rumored that it's going to be coming out, it isn't out yet. So, really I believe we still have to sit back and wait. But, you know, there's been so much pantomime, fake, farce, travesty, parody, sham, masquerade in this whole thing. I don't think it's going to measure up to Watergate in the end.
COOPER: Kirsten, do you think Michael's right, that history's going to look back at this and say like what was their kafuffle about?
KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, there's no way to know. Of course, if their -- if it ends up being what a lot of people think it is, then it is going to be much bigger than Watergate. Because Watergate was about a break-in into the Democratic National Convention and then the obstruction of justice on the part of the president to cover it up.
If what has been alleged here happened, we're talking about a foreign power interfering in an American election and, you know, our current President and his associates having been coordinating or involved or colluding in some way with that. Obviously, that would be a much bigger deal than a break-in into the Democratic National Committee headquarters, even though that was terrible.
So I think, you know, we don't know until, you know, everything pans out and we find out, you know, what basically Mueller has found out.
COOPER: But, Kirsten, if there is no, you know, conspiracy ever proven or ever there, is -- are the potential campaign finance violations, the hush money payments, is that a real scandal? I mean -- because plenty of people look at that and say, well, look --
COOPER: -- you know, campaign finance violations happen all the time, obviously not necessarily involving porn stars, but it's usually a financial penalty.
[20:40:04] POWERS: Well, the difference between this campaign finance violation and other ones is that it was intentional. It wasn't an accident and that's a felony. So it's not quite the same thing as just, you know, not -- just missing something. The same way I can make a mistake on my taxes or something and it's not intentional. This clearly was intentional. They were clearly trying to do something here. All that said, do I personally think that that rises to the level of a Watergate? No, I don't.
POWERS: You know, I think it's a problem certainly. I think it's a problem if the President committed a felony, you know, on his way to winning the White House. But I don't -- no. It wouldn't rise to the level of a Watergate or, you know, certainly the other accusations against him. COOPER: You know, Tim, one other -- I mean, well, many other, but one big difference from Watergate is President Nixon didn't have Twitter. There wasn't cable news on 24 hours a day with multiple different, you know, perspectives.
You know, it wasn't until the Nixon Library, you know, started releasing tapes, we started hearing that Nixon was, you know, unraveling, drinking, crying, getting Henry Kissinger to pray with him.
You know, if Twitter had been invented and Nixon was prone to use Twitter, it would have been -- I don't know if it would have seemed worse or seemed -- I don't know how it would have affected it, but the fact that we're seeing in real time the President's thoughts is fascinating.
NAFTALI: And we're actually witnessing a social experiment. One of the big differences between Donald Trump and Richard Nixon is that Richard Nixon observed the norms of the presidency. He was not a disruptor of norms. So the distance between the real Nixon and the televised Nixon was huge and so the American public felt really deeply betrayed by him when they figured out who he was.
Donald Trump has never pretended to embrace the norms of the presidency. And so the distance between what could be the behind-the- scenes Trump and the Twitter Trump, well, the Twitter Trump might not actually be that great --
NAFTALI: -- which might lead to less of a sense of betrayal. And that sense of betrayal in 1974 helped spell the doom for the Nixon administration.
COOPER: Yes, not following the norms you could argue is one of the reasons some people voted for him. They didn't want the norms to be followed (INAUDIBLE). Michael Caputo, thank you, Kirsten Powers, Tim Naftali, fascinating.
Is there an alarming new global political era at least in part attributable to President Trump that in effect says anything goes? That's what "New York Times" columnist Tom Friedman thinks. I'll talk to him next.
[20:45:55] COOPER: Tonight's sentencing of Paul Manafort is obviously significant on many levels and not just personally to Mr. Manafort. As we discussed in the last segment, the larger scandal that he's a part of still remains somewhat undefined as to how big it could get or small and how it might compare, for instance, to Watergate.
But just as during Watergate, there are plenty of other things going on at the same time, especially in this country's relationship with the world. The State Department said today that an agreement on denuclearization with North Korea could still be achieved by the end of President Trump's first term, this of course despite the abrupt collapse of the second summit in Hanoi.
The roller coaster nature of the talks with the North Korean dictator only highlights what "New York Times" op-ed columnist Thomas Friedman calls a new global political era where he says anything goes. That's the focus of Friedman's new column. And he says that while it's not totally attributable to the President, he's played a huge role in fostering it. Friedman is the author of "Thank You for Being Late." He joins me tonight.
Tom, you end your piece with the observation that now foreign nations before acting ways that undermine democracy or violates human rights, they no longer consider the question what will American say if we do this. That basically the silence of the Trump administration has given them free rein.
THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN, NEW YORK TIMES COLUMNIST: This is going to be a big problem for the next administration, whether it's Donald Trump or a different Republican or different Democrat because, Anderson, we basically have got a world now where we've got all these leaders making themselves presidents for life. We have all these leaders who feel they can arrest any dissident.
In the case of Saudi Arabia, even killing a moderate critic of the regime. Countries like Egypt now arresting all kinds of people. We see the Chinese doing what they're doing at home in their crackdown. And I think it's going to be a real problem going forward in the world in terms of how we manage to produce stability around the world when you've got all these rulers for life now.
The whole Democratic era that came out of the Cold War, the notion that we're on some kind of path of widening democracy around the world, it's really been reversed. We are in a democracy recession.
COOPER: It is amazing how kind of in the blink of an eye, you know, one thinks, oh, the wheel of progress moves forward and democracies are building, and then suddenly you turn around and as you say, you know, even liberal democracies are becoming, you know, less liberal and illiberal. I mean, all across the board it's not just dictators feeling more emboldened. It's all across the board we are seeing these changes.
FRIEDMAN: Well, there's two things coming together. One is the absence of American leadership on this front. You know, the feeling of so many leaders around the world that the cat's away and so the mice can play, that nobody's really looking, that whatever you're thinking of doing to your people, you're not going to face any American sanction. My gosh, in so many important countries, like Egypt, for instance, we don't even have an ambassador.
And the other thing happening, though, Anderson, which is disturbing, is technology. All these technologies that have great promise, whether it's Facebook or Twitter or, you know, facial recognition, you know, cyber technologies, they're all dual use technologies. They can be incredibly democratizing, but they can also be incredibly authoritarian. And regimes are learning to use these technologies I believe to track, surveil, and control their people with a disturbing efficiency.
COOPER: It's also not just silence from the Trump administration in the absence of, you know, as you said, ambassadors in a lot of different places and officials. The President has actually given language that dictators and others can use -- can use the exact same language, whether it's fake news or going after people. I mean, he's actually kind of providing them with cover and a vocabulary.
FRIEDMAN: Well, fake news is very important. Hitler used fake news. The idea that you try to delegitimize every source of criticism and make your voice, your favored media the only source of news for people in your community, that is a very, very troubling phenomenon. And the notion that America would be leading that parade is very troubling.
[20:50:16] COOPER: Also now, the White House is set up in a way that mirrors kind of other countries in leadership and that's not in a good way. I mean, I remember once going -- I think it was to visit President Aristide in Haiti, and walking through the palace and there were rooms and rooms that were basically empty. There was just no one there.
And then you got to like a room where there was a secretary but there was no computer on the desk, and then you got inside and it was like Aristide and, I don't know, his cousin or something, they were watching a soccer match. You get the sense with -- that President Trump is -- you know, he has his family there. He has his daughter there. He has his son-in-law there and they're sort of part of the arm of -- you know, it's this little cutlery (ph).
FRIEDMAN: It's funny. Your image -- I once visited the President of Mexico, Ernesto Zedillo, during the peso crisis back in the 90's and it was the same thing. I was let into the White House and Mexico City walk upstairs and there was like nobody around and he was playing the 1812 overture on his office area. I don't think that -- it was an incredible scene. I never forgot it easily, he's a lovely man.
COOPER: To me it's just interesting that -- I mean, the set up is very much like he ran the Trump Organization with family members and personal loyalty and there's a sort of chaos to it that -- from everybody who reported on the Trump Organization that's how that was set up.
FRIEDMAN: It's all OK as long as the world is sort of reasonably stable, global economy is reasonably stable. But if we have a crisis -- if we have a crisis and you have a president who's got formal authority but no real moral authority, you're really going to have a problem, because he's going to look into the camera and say, folks, I have to do X, Y, or Z.
And when you have a leader who lied 9,000 times or issued 9,000 falsehoods and misleading statements, that's going to be a real problem. He's been very lucky, we've been very lucky that this kind of chaotic system hasn't had to manage a real global crisis.
COOPER: Yes. Tom Friedman, thanks very much.
COOPER: Let's check in with Chris to see what he was working on. Chris?
CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: 47 months for Manafort, much less than -- and there's a lot of fines and stuff. But in terms of time --
CUOMO: -- it's a lot less than Mueller wanted. Now, does that mean that the judge next week is going to tee up? Obviously judges aren't supposed to coordinate that, but will there be a harder sentence next week? And if not, is this a reflection that the Mueller charges and the pursuit of all of these matters has been overblown? You have legal and political implications, we're taking on both.
Robert Ray is one of the best legal minds in the business. He was one of the Whitewater legal counsels, the independent counsel, you remember that. He's going to come on tonight to test. I'm in a huge disadvantage, but the issues and the questions matter.
And we're also going to talk politics. We have Representative Hill here. I've seen you interview her. She is very quick. She has very big ideas about where this is all headed for the Democrats. We'll take that on.
And then, I'm trying to channel you and come up with an explanation of what happened with this resolution that was supposed to be a simple condemnation of anti-Semitic speech. How did it become a mess like everything else?
COOPER: Chris, we'll look for that seven minutes from now. See you then.
Also just a couple of minutes, a little levity on this wild night, it's all about Tim who? The strange moment with Apple's Tim Cook and the President lands on "The Ridiculist."
[20:57:23] COOPER: Time now for "The Ridiculist." And you know the old saying, an apple a day keeps the doctor away, far, far away because even he doesn't know what the heck is going on at the White House.
There's this company, you might have heard of it, it makes iPhones and iPads and MacBooks. Well, the CEO of that company is a gentleman named Tim Cook and yesterday he was in a meeting with President Trump's American Workforce Policy Advisory Board.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You've really put a big investment in our country. We appreciate it very much, Tim Apple.
(END VIDEO CLIP) COOPER: Yes, that's right, Tim Apple. Look, give the President a break. He's got a lot to deal with and Cook is tough to remember, it's a tough tongue twister like all one syllable names are.
It's also possible the President just assumes that titans of industries adopt the corporate last name. There was after all that period of time in the 1990s when he was known in some quarters as Donald J. Bankrupt Casino.
As for yesterday's snafu, I got to give big props to Tim Granny Smith who took it all and stride and changed his Twitter name to Tim with an Apple logo. Even the President's daughter and senior advisor, Ivanka Trump, retweeted a daily show clip showcasing all the other names her father has botched in the past. You'll notice she even included some diagonal laughing emojis.
By the way, I personally don't use face emojis because I can never figure out what they actually mean? Are they crying laughing or crying, crying? There's too many of them. Anyway, I haven't noticed the option for a diagonal laugh.
Then, again, I don't have a high level security clearance. Anyway, look, everyone makes (INAUDIBLE). I certainly do. I sputter, I stutter, I stammer, I giggle, there's nothing to be ashamed of, and it's not like the President boast about his language skills.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I'm very highly educated. I know words. I have the best words.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: OK, so he boasts about his language skills. This is really not a big deal, which is why it's interesting that when the official White House transcript of yesterday's event was released, someone in the White House actually inserted a dash in between the words Tim and Apple implying for all of history that the President pause or spoke haltingly. Let's just play that clip again.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: You've really put a big investment in our country. We appreciate it very much, Tim Apple.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: OK. There was no dash in what he said. Here's an example of what a dash sounds like. Yesterday, the Fish and Wildlife Service took the gray wolf-blitzer off the endangered species list. And frankly, it is about time that happened because wolf is thriving every day. He's snacking on livestock left and right in the situation room.
Do you think the President makes this mistake often? Does he get confused by -- like Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and Agricultural Secretary Sonny Perdue calling them Secretary Roast and Secretary Chicken? I mean, they'd be nothing wrong with that.
Maybe you call the Koch brothers the Cola brothers. Maybe you call Secretary Mnuchin, Secretary Munchkin. By the way, I play the mayor of Munchkinland in fourth grade. I digress. Maybe he thinks Attorney Generally Bill Burr was on Cheers. Who cares? The important thing is that the President loves fruit, and by fruit, I mean McDonald's, and Kentucky Fried Chicken, and tacos from his own restaurant.
But, I got to say, I agree with him about McDonald's. They - they actually sell apples too, pre-sliced, packaged, they're quite good, and always available. You just got to pull the motorcade right up to the drive-through on The Ridiculist.
And that's it for us. Want to hand it over to Chris for CUOMO PRIME TIME. Chris?