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CUOMO PRIME TIME

Judiciary Committee Chair: Former Acting A.G. Whitaker Didn't Deny Discussing Cohen Probe With Trump; Emails Show Trump Team's Concern About Cohen Flipping; Trump Administration Grounds Boeing 737 MAX Jets, Citing New Evidence From Crash Site. Aired 9-10p ET

Aired March 13, 2019 - 21:00   ET

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


[21:00:00] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR, ANDERSON COOPER 360: The news continues. Want to hand it over to Chris for CUOMO PRIME TIME.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR, CUOMO PRIME TIME: She may have given you the words. But nobody could come up with that laugh, Coop. That's all yours.

COOPER: Yes. Well, a 12-year old girl, maybe--

CUOMO: No. No.

COOPER: --could come up with that laugh.

CUOMO: Very manly. Very manly. My - my dad used to laugh the same way.

Thank you, Coop. And thank you, Faith.

COOPER: All right.

CUOMO: I am Chris Cuomo. Welcome to PRIME TIME.

Did the President try to obstruct the Michael Cohen case? Did he try to float a pardon? We have two new sources of concern.

One are emails obtained by CNN showing this odd back-channel between Cohen and the President, and what was said. The other comes from what was not said by former Acting A.G. Matthew Whitaker today, regarding control of the Cohen case.

Does this mean anything for the President legally or politically? We have the Head of the GOP here. Does she want to defend or is this something that will be dismissed? And what does it mean for 2020?

Plus, the Boeing jets deemed unsafe to fly overseas finally grounded here at home. Keyword is "Finally." Did this take too long? Was this motivated by facts or money? We're going to dig much deeper tonight.

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

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TEXT: CUOMO PRIME TIME.

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CUOMO: What a dizzying day! You know, let me try to help you put it in focus, all right? Put the lens on some substantial news that could be damaging for the President. Do you remember this?

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MATTHEW WHITAKER, FORMER ACTING UNITED STATES ATTORNEY GENERAL: At no time has the White House asked for nor have I provided any promises or commitments concerning the Special Counsel's investigation or any other investigation.

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CUOMO: All right, now, look, the word commitments tweaked some of the Democratic lawmakers. Well, does that mean you didn't talk about it at all or you didn't promise anything?

So, when the President's former Acting Attorney General testified, wasn't satisfying enough. So, he was hauled back to the Hill to clarify today what happened. We're not going to know in large part because it was closed.

But the Head of the - the Judiciary Committee says that Whitaker did not deny talking about control of the Cohen case with this President. Listen.

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JERRY NADLER, (D) HOUSE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN, U.S. REPRESENTATIVE FOR NEW YORK'S 10TH CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT: Unlike in the hearing room, Mr. Whitaker did not deny that the President called him to discuss Michael Cohen - the Michael Cohen case, and personnel decisions in the Southern District.

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CUOMO: All right, so he didn't deny it, all right. Now, what does that mean?

We don't really know. It's not as clean as saying it absolutely didn't happen. Does it suggest it did happen? Like everything else, right now, this may be processed through the lens of your partisan perspective.

But, look, it's important, because once again it raises whether or not the President was trying to obstruct the Cohen case. What does this mean? What does it mean for 2020?

Who better to discuss than the Chairwoman of the RNC, Ronna McDaniel, great to have you here in PRIME TIME.

RONNA MCDANIEL, REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE CHAIRWOMAN: Oh, thanks for having me. Thank you.

CUOMO: Thank you very much. So, you're not - I'm not going to lawyer you up on this stuff. The--

MCDANIEL: So, not a lawyer.

CUOMO: Yes.

MCDANIEL: Yes.

CUOMO: And here's my more general political question.

MCDANIEL: Sure.

CUOMO: What level of wrongdoing would concern you politically like what is it that you could see come out of this situation where you're like, "Now, that's a problem for us?"

MCDANIEL: Well I will just tell you I have not seen any level of wrongdoing that has concerned me. And I will tell you the voters around the country aren't talking about this.

They're talking about the fact that their wages are up for the first time in a decade. They're talking about jobs coming back. They feel better about the economy. That's what they're talking about.

They think this is a D.C. story, this is a Beltway story, and it's not something that affects their day-to-day lives.

They're looking for politicians to come into their states like my State of Michigan and say, "What are you going to do to make my life better? Michael Cohen doesn't factor in." They want to see this Mueller report done. They want to see it finished.

And I think the Democrats are at a tipping point now. If they use these next two years to just investigate and continue to go after this President, and not focus on "How do I make lives better for the people I represent?" I think it's a mistake.

CUOMO: Worked for you guys. It got you the 2016 election. I mean that's all--

MCDANIEL: You know what? Not Donald Trump.

CUOMO: --Mitch McConnell said it outright.

MCDANIEL: Donald Trump came to Michigan when no other Republican had.

CUOMO: Oh, no, no question.

MCDANIEL: And he said, "Your wages have been stagnant. You have not had a champion in Washington. You don't have lobbyists. You don't have people representing you."

CUOMO: Right.

MCDANIEL: "You don't have those special interests. I'm going to be that fighter for that forgotten man." And it did work because he wasn't that average politician. CUOMO: Well that's for sure. Others said it. They just didn't believe them the way they believed--

MCDANIEL: Yes.

CUOMO: --Donald Trump. That's why he wound up dismissing the field. But I'm saying as a general political tactic, I agree with you, it shouldn't be done. But it was done in epic fashion by the Republicans.

They didn't get punished even though Trump, you could argue, wasn't the typical standard bearer. He is now, and the whole party seems to have capitulated to his identity. I'll talk to you about that in a second.

MCDANIEL: Sure.

[21:05:00] CUOMO: But here's what I don't get about the wrongdoing thing. I - I feel like you guys talk about wrongdoing on the Republican side only through the lens of criminality because poll after poll shows, and you know this, people care about this.

They want to know who did what. It matters. Do they want impeachment? No, I've never seen a poll where you have the majority of the country--

MCDANIEL: No.

CUOMO: --saying it. We also don't know what the - what we're talking about yet either. We got to see this report, if we ever get to see it. We're going to have to see what the oversight yields, if it yields anything.

That will matter to the American people. They're not fools. But they care about this. And I think that the question is going to be this. Is a felony the only thing that isn't fine?

If it's not a felony, because we know right now there was collusion with people on the campaign, not a crime. But what Manafort did with that polling data--

MCDANIEL: I would disagree with that, but yes.

CUOMO: But here's my - here's my take on it.

MCDANIEL: Yes, I would disagree with that, yes.

CUOMO: I'm not saying it was criminal. There'd been no charges on that. It's just been for lying, essentially, and then other stuff with Manafort. You gave polling data that wound up placing the same places and faces as the campaign--

MCDANIEL: Well the RNC and the President did not do that.

CUOMO: Not you.

MCDANIEL: Yes. CUOMO: Well, the--

MCDANIEL: Absolutely not.

CUOMO: --President's campaign did in the form of his Chairman.

MCDANIEL: I'm not going to totally go along with that. But I think--

CUOMO: You don't have to, but it's a fact.

MCDANIEL: The President did not collude to keep Hillary Clinton from visiting Wisconsin. The President didn't force Hillary Clinton to avoid Michigan.

CUOMO: I agree.

MCDANIEL: The President didn't say and the Russians didn't do that either. I mean I think--

CUOMO: True.

MCDANIEL: --people want to see a - a resolution to this investigation. They want to see it stopped.

CUOMO: But why can't you have both?

MCDANIEL: But they also don't want--

CUOMO: Why can't you have both?

MCDANIEL: --they also don't want endless investigations in search of a crime. I mean it's one thing to say "Here's a crime that was committed, and we are going to investigate the steps up to the wrongdoing - wrong - steps that led up to this wrongdoing."

But it's different to say, "Let's have this open-ended-without-scope investigation looking for a crime." And I think that's the difference meaning--

CUOMO: But this was a Special Counsel that was called for by the person that the President and Sessions had put in to the A.G.'s Office. It's lasted less than Benghazi. It's about to wrap up. It's produced a tremendous amount of convictions and people put on--

MCDANIEL: It related to nothing having to--

CUOMO: --their indictment.

MCDANIEL: --I mean Paul Manafort, what's happened to him today, it's about money laundering, it's about tax evasion.

CUOMO: True.

MCDANIEL: It's about his personal business. Michael Cohen is about his personal business dealings with his tax fraud, with lying--

CUOMO: Oh, like paying off people for the President.

MCDANIEL: --and lying to Congress. But he was put in - put in jail--

CUOMO: Flynn is about lying about contacts.

MCDANIEL: --because of his lying about his financial state - status on bank documents.

CUOMO: Right. But he pled to a felony.

MCDANIEL: We saw many of this (ph) had to do with their personal doings.

CUOMO: He pled to a felony with hush-money payments.

MCDANIEL: Yes.

CUOMO: You know this. That matters too.

MCDANIEL: He - but he's going to jail for many things that he was doing in his personal life. None of it has to do with collusion. But I do think people want to see this--

CUOMO: Right. But hold on a second.

MCDANIEL: --investigation end.

CUOMO: The charges don't have to do with collusion. I accept that. Because I don't see criminality--

MCDANIEL: Yes.

CUOMO: --as a bar for wrongdoing.

And I know you don't either because over the years Republicans have made character huge. You've never been felony but fine. You weren't that with any other Democratic politician nor should you be.

You know, Mike Pence wrote a very eloquent essay about Bill Clinton, saying, "You know what? We have to judge him as a neighbor, not just as some burglar, just because he didn't trip the line that makes it a felony." He said it.

Now, "If it's not a felony, it's fine."

Paul Manafort gives polling data that the Russians use arguably to target places for their interference. You have Flynn who reaches out to people he knew he shouldn't have. You have Roger Stone who reached out to people--

MCDANIEL: Yes.

CUOMO: --who knew they shouldn't have. And everybody lies about it because they knew it was wrong, and it doesn't bother you.

MCDANIEL: And it had no substantial effect on the election. The President did not collude with the Russians.

CUOMO: I don't know that but who cares - but who cares about that?

MCDANIEL: But why don't we wait till the Mueller report comes out because when it comes out and says there's no collusion, is - are the Democrats going to say, "OK. You're right. There was - we - we trust Mueller. It's done." I mean--

CUOMO: But how can he say there is no collusion--

MCDANIEL: --here's the reality, Chris, is--

CUOMO: --when they're the ones that told us about--

MCDANIEL: This is a President that's delivering--

CUOMO: --Manafort giving the polling data.

MCDANIEL: --day in and day out. And that's what I always go back to.

CUOMO: Please.

MCDANIEL: And I do polling every day, and I'm in the states, and I'm all across the country. Voters are saying what is the President doing to make my life better?

CUOMO: I think that's a 100 percent true.

MCDANIEL: What is he doing? What are the results? When unemployment's at the lowest for African-Americans--

CUOMO: I think that's a 100 percent true.

MCDANIEL: --and Hispanic and - and Hispanics and for women. And they see jobs coming back.

I was in a state that was decimated. We were decimated after 2008. Home prices were gone. Wages were stagnant. I had friends lose their homes, had to file for bankruptcy. President Trump provided a life time - line for a state like mine that nobody was paying attention to.

CUOMO: Well but we know factually that's not true.

MCDANIEL: And now we're seeing--

CUOMO: 2008, you were put in the hole under a Republican President.

MCDANIEL: And then it continued.

CUOMO: You then had - no.

MCDANIEL: It was an anemic recovery.

CUOMO: You then had a turnaround but it wasn't enough. An anemic recovery--

MCDANIEL: It was very anemic.

CUOMO: --is a little bit of an oxymoron. Either it's a recovery or it isn't.

MCDANIEL: When you - when your wages are stagnant and now you're seeing wages growing for the first time in a decade, that's an improvement.

CUOMO: In some spaces.

MCDANIEL: In my state--

CUOMO: I don't think that it's fair to argue there is nothing positive going on.

MCDANIEL: There is a lot positive.

CUOMO: I deal with that all the time. But why--

MCDANIEL: But I think it's--

CUOMO: --exclude one part of the analysis in favor of the other? Why can't be both?

MCDANIEL: I'm just saying, I don't think voters care about that. As we're heading into 2020--

CUOMO: Every poll shows that they care. It's like two out of three voters.

MCDANIEL: But it's not the top. It is not the top of what they care about. They care about the economy. They care about jobs. They care about how's my family doing.

CUOMO: Should--

MCDANIEL: Can my kids get a job when they graduate from college--

CUOMO: Should it matter--

MCDANIEL: --how are my schools (ph)?

CUOMO: Of course, of course. But--

MCDANIEL: That's what they care about.

CUOMO: --but they care about this too. And I, look, I get the political spinning of this (ph).

MCDANIEL: I'm not saying I don't care. I'm just saying let the investigation take place.

CUOMO: Well, you did say they don't care.

MCDANIEL: Let's see what ends up--

CUOMO: And guys say it all the time on this show, "People don't care about this." We know they care about it.

MCDANIEL: But let the investigation take place.

CUOMO: Why shouldn't they care?

[21:10:00] MCDANIEL: Why are we jumping to conclusions? There's too much jumping to conclusions. Let it take place.

CUOMO: I agree there is--

MCDANIEL: The report's going to come out.

CUOMO: --some jumping to conclusions. I would challenge you to tell me what conclusion I'm jumping to.

MCDANIEL: I'm not saying you.

CUOMO: OK.

MCDANIEL: Just across the spectrum.

CUOMO: What - what I'm saying is should it matter to the American people if the President and people around him lied about things that they did that were wrong, not crimes?

Let's assume none is a crime but they knew they did things they shouldn't have done, and lied to us, hoping we wouldn't find out--

MCDANIEL: I think it matters.

CUOMO: --and they messed with the probe that was digging into the same things because they didn't like the questions being asked.

MCDANIEL: I think the American people, actually, a lot of the people I talk to are more concerned about "What was Nellie Ohr doing working for GPS and giving information to her husband? Why was the Democrat National Committee paying for the Fusion GPS report? And why was Hillary Clinton's"--

CUOMO: You think people care more about the--

MCDANIEL: My voters do.

CUOMO: --Clintons.

MCDANIEL: This is the difference.

CUOMO: Oh, you're saying the Republican voters--

MCDANIEL: When I travel, my voters are saying, "Why isn't that being investigated?"

CUOMO: OK. So maybe that's the distinction.

MCDANIEL: "Why aren't we hearing about the DNC"--

CUOMO: I talk about Americans.

MCDANIEL: Yes.

CUOMO: Not one party.

MCDANIEL: Yes.

CUOMO: Because I believe that the Party system is falling away. And I believe that that's a good transition for us to 2020.

MCDANIEL: Sure. Let's go into that.

CUOMO: Because I don't know what's going on with the two parties anymore.

The Democratic Party does not seem to be one party to me. Your party is only Trump that when you say, I've never heard a Chair say what you say, and you're sophisticated about your messaging.

"You want to run in the primary against this President? Go ahead. You're going to get crushed." I've never heard a Party Chair say that before.

MCDANIEL: Yes, I think you have.

CUOMO: Never.

MCDANIEL: When you have a President with this type of approval rating that's delivered - that's delivered on the promises he's campaigned on, there's nothing prohibiting people from running. I'm just saying--

CUOMO: You did.

MCDANIEL: No. We're not prohibiting.

CUOMO: Why would I run against him if I were a Republican after the Chair--

MCDANIEL: Nobody - nobody can--

CUOMO: --said that.

MCDANIEL: They can run if they want.

CUOMO: I know. But when this--

MCDANIEL: They go through the same procedures. But I'm saying--

CUOMO: --when my boss, my Party Boss told me I'm dead man walking.

MCDANIEL: --"Hey, let me give you a piece of advice. I think it's probably a bad bet," because I'm looking at his polling numbers, I look at how popular he's in the states. I look at the map from Iowa to New Hampshire to South Carolina to Nevada, which will be the first four states.

CUOMO: He's always over 85 percent--

MCDANIEL: I just don't see an - yes--

CUOMO: --anywhere you look.

MCDANIEL: --I just don't see an opening.

CUOMO: With Republicans, always over 85 percent.

MCDANIEL: Yes. I just don't see an opening in a Republican primary. That doesn't prevent them from running. I'm just being cadent.

CUOMO: Well I think you've had what we call a chilling effect on them because you say you're going to get crushed, and you're the Head of the Party. I mean I just think that carries a lot of weight, that's all.

MCDANIEL: Well, I - the truth is the truth. I mean I'm--

CUOMO: I know. I mean--

MCDANIEL: --unlike other politicians, I tell the truth.

CUOMO: But that's what - ha-ha. Be careful. People in your party are going to get mad at you.

The - the idea is this that it's just interesting for the party that used to define itself by character, it was such a huge thing for you guys. It should be for everybody, but you guys really marched on it.

You now have a party that actively ignores it in their President--

MCDANIEL: I absolutely disagree with that.

CUOMO: --on a regular basis.

MCDANIEL: I totally disagree with that.

CUOMO: When's the last time you saw any of your big shots say, "Hey, I got to say, the President's just lying about this. This is a lie. He shouldn't lie about this."

MCDANIEL: First of all, I spend a lot of time with the President. I know him in a very different way. This is a President who has--

CUOMO: Please don't tell me you've never heard him lie. Please don't tell me that, Ronna.

MCDANIEL: I don't--

CUOMO: I have - I have so much respect for--

MCDANIEL: Here's what I'm going to say. I - I--

CUOMO: --how you treated yourself (ph). MCDANIEL: No. I spend a lot of time with the President. First of all, under the - I grew up under the Clinton - the Clinton era. I was in D.C.

I'm the same age as Monica Lewinsky - Lewinsky. I was working at a firm. I watched them try and destroy her character and take her down. And I think it did have a seismic shift.

I go to church for my moral leadership. I look at politicians based on, "Are you in line with my issues? Are you going to cut taxes? Are you going to de-regulate? Are you going to do the things that align with me?"

CUOMO: You don't think the President is a moral leader for this country?

MCDANIEL: I absolutely think he's a moral leader. I'm just - but I'm saying--

CUOMO: So, you just say you don't look at politicians for moral leadership.

MCDANIEL: But it's different. I look at a moral - I look at all my political leaders more in line of, "How do you line up with my policies?"

CUOMO: OK.

MCDANIEL: "What are you going to do?"

CUOMO: But politicians are supposed to be moral leaders. Aren't they're supposed to--

MCDANIEL: Really?

CUOMO: --reflect our best?

MCDANIEL: OK.

CUOMO: Aren't they supposed to?

MCDANIEL: Well if - if that's your definition. Of course, I want them to be moral leaders. But I'm saying, how are they going to govern is part of what dictates how you--

CUOMO: Of course.

MCDANIEL: --who you elect.

CUOMO: Of course--

MCDANIEL: You could be the nicest most moral person in the world. I don't want you to be the President because I want you to make - I want to make sure that you're aligned with my policies.

CUOMO: You want me to deal with it - do you want to know that I tell the truth?

MCDANIEL: This President is - told the truth on the things that he ran on. "I'm going to cut taxes." Done. "I'm going to bring more jobs back to this country."

CUOMO: I'm going to build a wall and Mexico's going to pay for it.

MCDANIEL: Done. You know what? The USMCA, he said, is going to help pay for the wall. And he is building the wall.

CUOMO: Mexico's not paying for it.

MCDANIEL: And he's done the national emergency.

CUOMO: I know. And which is - what - talking - when you (ph) talk about mendacity, you talk about telling the truth. He admitted that the emergency that he declared wasn't an emergency.

MCDANIEL: And when Barack Obama said, "If you like your healthcare plan, you can keep it," was that telling the truth?

CUOMO: Is that - is that moral - is that moral? Or is that moral relativism?

MCDANIEL: I think that--

CUOMO: So, if somebody else said something that was a lie, is it OK for this President to lie?

MCDANIEL: Chris, I'm just not going to get in the back and forth. All I know is this is a President who came into states like mine, and said, "I'm going to help raise your wages. I'm going to bring jobs."

CUOMO: He's going to drain the swamp.

MCDANIEL: Yes.

CUOMO: And how's the swamp looking?

MCDANIEL: I think the President's done a great job.

CUOMO: I think we'd drown if we stepped in it.

MCDANIEL: He's fighting it every single day.

CUOMO: How is he - how is he fighting when he put the biggest alligators in it we've ever seen?

MCDANIEL: What do you mean?

CUOMO: Look at the cabinet officials that have been dismissed.

MCDANIEL: Oh.

CUOMO: We've never seen anything like it.

MCDANIEL: Bringing great business leaders in to help with the cabinet--

CUOMO: The people who've had to leave this Administration--

MCDANIEL: --Wilbur Ross, Steven Mnuchin?

CUOMO: --under clouds of unethical behavior.

MCDANIEL: He's brought a different type of cabinet, and they are getting--

CUOMO: True.

MCDANIEL: --things done.

CUOMO: Some things done. You have--

MCDANIEL: Lots of things done.

[21:15:00] CUOMO: --less positions filled. You have all this political intrigue, people getting indicted, it's hard to say he cleaned it up.

MCDANIEL: So, I represent what I see around the country. I'm proud of this President. I would vote for - I'm going to vote for him again. I'm excited to work on his re-elect. I think he's done the things that he campaigned on, and that's how I view this President. And more than that, I travel the country, and I hear people saying

every day, "I'm so thankful that he ran. I wish he got the - the recognition he deserves. I wish we would talk about the results more than the investigations and all the other things that are just noise compared to what's happening in - in our country and our homes and our jobs, that's what we want to hear about."

CUOMO: Biggest thing that 2020 will be decided on?

MCDANIEL: I think--

CUOMO: Your perspective.

MCDANIEL: --are you going to go for a - a party that is expanding government, and looks as government has all the solutions. Are you going to go for the party that's for liberty and continuing the American Dream? And that's what our Party stands for.

CUOMO: I'm surprised you didn't use the word socialism. I think that's going to be an effective tool for you guys.

MCDANIEL: I think socialism is too.

CUOMO: Ronna.

MCDANIEL: But they need to understand that's a total government takeover.

CUOMO: I understand. And I think that we're going to see that battleground, and a couple of the little sparring points along the way. Thank you-- MCDANIEL: Thank you.

CUOMO: --for making the case. You're always welcome here.

MCDANIEL: Thank you for having me.

CUOMO: Appreciate it.

All right, now, one of these emails, and I'm going to show to you because you have to filter this stuff for yourself. I bring on perspective on this show. You're going to get the right, you're going to get the left, but you got to make your decisions. You know that's how this show works.

"Sleep well tonight." What did that mean in one of these new emails obtained by CNN? Could mean something, could be nothing. You got to look at the context. I'm going to give it to you because there's an issue now about these emails and whether or not they were a window into dangling a pardon.

And if they were, is that wrong? President can pardon anybody they want. You're going to see them yourself, and you can decide what's wrong, and what isn't.

Also, is there a reason why the FAA waited so long to finally ground the 737 MAX 8? Did it have skin in the game? Why do I use that phrase? Because the person who's coming up on the show who knows the FAA uses it to explain the delay.

What's the argument? Next.

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[21:20:00] CUOMO: The big story, you saw first on CNN, evidence that suggests the President's team was dangling pardons. Michael Cohen clearly thought a pardon was in play in April of last year.

Why? Because he got this email, and it relayed that the President's then newest lawyer named Rudolph Giuliani wanted Cohen to "Sleep well tonight" because he had "friends in high places."

Now, both sides can argue, and will, over who brought up pardons to whom. But the conversations happened. These emails prove that. There was talk of a "back channel" to the President, one the Trump Team hoped would continue.

And we know the conversation went all the way to the White House. So, you can decide for yourself how this squares with Cohen's testimony before Congress.

But, as I've said, it's less about what he can say and more about what he can show, ergo, the emails. Now, this shows plenty especially in context.

The person sending the emails is somebody named Robert Costello. Why is he interesting? Because he was not Cohen's attorney. That's key here. He was pushing his services claiming close ties to Giuliani.

The timing of Costello showing up in all this, also key. The Feds had just searched Cohen's homes and office. Giuliani had only been on Trump's legal team a few days at this point. Cohen was trying to figure out if he should stick to a joint defense agreement with the President or if he should, as he eventually did, flip.

At the same time, Costello was emailing Trump - Cohen. Same time Costello was emailing Cohen, Trump was tweeting how he always liked and respected Cohen, and didn't see Michael flipping.

Now, it's true. The word pardon isn't in the emails. Costello says it's utter nonsense to read that into his words. And he says Cohen asked him to go to the President about this.

But wait. Why would Cohen not ask his own lawyer to do that? And why would Michael Cohen, the President's lawyer, not call the President directly? Unclear.

What is clear, people on the President's side were worried about what Cohen was going to do, and they wanted him to remember his close relationship, one that is now gone, thanks to what Cohen calls, "His decision to tell the truth."

So, prosecutors made a big move today. They made Paul Manafort pardon- proof just minutes after today's sentencing. I'm talking about New York State Prosecutors. State charges can't be pardoned.

Is this legit? Cuomo's Court takes it up.

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(END VIDEO CLIP) [21:25:00] CUOMO: These new Cohen emails show concern, so does the idea of using Matthew Whitaker to mess with the SDNY investigation. How much do they matter? Let's take them up with Cuomo's Court.

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CUOMO: Elliot Williams, former Federal Prosecutor, who, we should point out, consults for Law Works, an organization dedicated to protecting the Special Counsel, and John Dean, unparalleled perspective as Nixon's White House Counsel during Watergate, an honor to have you both.

ELLIOT WILLIAMS, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR, FORMER DEPUTY ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL, THE RABEN GROUP'S GOVERNMENT AFFAIRS PRACTICE GROUP PRINCIPAL: Yes.

CUOMO: All right, so--

JOHN DEAN, FORMER NIXON WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL: Thank you.

CUOMO: --Elliot, let's start with you. Why do I care about the Cohen emails? Can't the President pardon anyone? What would make it wrong?

WILLIAMS: He can. But we've seen before that the President is willing to use the pardon power to reward allies of his. So, look at the - the really high-profile ones. You have Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Maybe two years ago, you had Dinesh D'Souza.

These were all individuals who were loyal to the President. And the question is by floating a pardon, if that's what happened in these emails, was the President trying to reward the loyalty of Michael Cohen back at a time when the President was still very loyal to Michael Cohen?

CUOMO: OK.

WILLIAMS: You know, they had - they hadn't had their falling-out yet.

CUOMO: OK. But let's stick with the legal first, and then--

WILLIAMS: Sure.

CUOMO: --we'll go to the political because something could be not illegal, but still wrong.

But John, legally, the President, that pardon power is so expansive that other than showing self-dealing or bribery and showing it overtly, it kind of analogizes to the obstruction analysis legally, which is, "Hey, he has oversight over these investigations. If he wants to stop them he can. You have to show corrupt intent."

It's a high bar. And do these emails even come close to it? DEAN: You're right. And I don't think these emails alone do.

As I understand, the emails were put into evidence or appeared as a result of Cohen's testimony, where he was trying to make the point that about having an early offer for a pardon that he did not follow up on.

We've not seen the responses. But also, Chris, we've got to look at this in the picture it's going to fall. There's not going to be a prosecution of the President. But there might be is an impeachment.

And we know Nixon was impeached for obstruction of justice. And they included his dangling of pardons in that obstruction charge. So, you have to look at these in that broader context.

And if they get additional evidence, that they could well get, and I understand the Southern District is actually looking for further evidence, this might well be the road to show obstruction.

CUOMO: Now, politically, you know, you got - I don't want to - I don't - I don't want to corrupt your legal minds with political pablum. But you saw Ronna McDaniel, right, the Chair of the RNC?

They only talk about criminality. "Nothing is wrong." I call it the, "If it isn't a felony, it's fine" standard. This from the party of Lincoln that used to be all about character when it was about appraising Bill Clinton, wasn't just about his crimes, it was about moral turpitude.

But now, Elliot, "Hey, look, if you can't prove it's a felony, everything was fine." Sure they may have lied about it. But Republicans don't care. And this is going to be a political trial and that's what gets him through.

WILLIAMS: Right. Not all conduct that is suspect or questionable for a President of the United States or, frankly, a campaign for the Presidency is, you know, is going to be chargeable in Criminal Court. Now, is that conduct that you wish to have a President or a campaign engaging in?

So, you know, some prosecutors call that awful but lawful conduct. And I guess, you know, we will find out over time what the nature of the conduct is.

But you're absolutely right, Chris. The mere fact that there may not be - not everything is criminally chargeable. The reasonable doubt standard that we follow in the law in Criminal Court is incredibly high.

But the President of the United States is not to be held to a reasonable doubt standard--

CUOMO: Right.

WILLIAMS: --when it's a question of judgment, judgment on behalf of the American people. CUOMO: We do have to figure out what the standard is. I don't think we know that yet either.

John Dean, Whitaker not denying, according to Nadler, the Chair of the Judiciary Committee, that he talked with the President about who controlled the Cohen investigation. What is potential exposure on that?

DEAN: Well he made a fairly flat statement that he had had really no such dealings with the President or conversations with the President, and this could conflict with that sworn statement. And I think that's what the Committee is looking at.

Apparently, there are different interpretations of the conversations today. One of the Ranking Members, Minority Members came out and said, they heard it very differently than Nadler did, and there's apparently no transcript.

So, I'm not sure this is going to go anywhere other than confuse things, and they need to put this man under oath in another forum.

[21:30:00] CUOMO: Oh, so we're going to have to do it again. Let me ask you this, something Elliot that really kind of tweaked me today. Minutes after Manafort gets sentenced, new state charges from the Manhattan D.A. Office in New York.

They say they've been looking at it since 2017. But, boy, does it stink of a political move? How do you see it?

WILLIAMS: Right. They need to insulate themselves from the politics if they wish to have their prosecution taken seriously. Now, look, these very well might be that they are legitimate charges, and they - they certainly got a Grand Jury.

CUOMO: Minutes after he gets sentenced?

WILLIAMS: But, again, look, the timing of it isn't great. The - Manafort could potentially face State - State Court charges in Virginia, Illinois, and California. So, the - the idea that these aren't legitimate, you know, we should put that to rest.

Now, the question is the timing is they cannot make this look political, because the President - look, it's a Democratic - it's a largely Democratic City, it's a Democratically-elected District Attorney.

And so, certainly, the - the allegations of - of - of partisanship are there. We'd seen that the President can attack the credibility of an institution, as you saw with the Special Counsel.

And I think he can do that here if it - you know, so, as with all prosecutors, look, I face this, all prosecutors do, you need to be taken seriously, and that you're bringing charges without fear or favor.

And if there's that implication, certainly, it doesn't bode well for those charges.

CUOMO: Right.

WILLIAMS: But - but they - they - they appear to be looking at the indictment. They're righteous charges based on unlawful conduct that could be--

CUOMO: Right. But, usually, the state cedes to the Fed when it's the same nucleus of fact that they're looking at, and then the timing on top of it. We need to learn more. But they have a little bit of wood to chop here to convince people that it's all just straight ahead prosecution.

John, I have a question I want to ask you a dozen times over the next six or seven weeks, OK?

As people start to process the spin game, that is going to fall on our heads, when Congress passes along whatever Mueller gives to the A.G., and he lets flow through to them, what is your guidance for Mr. and Mrs. America in terms of what lens should they look through when they are hearing whether this was wrong or not, and whether it's a crime, or whether it isn't, whether it's impeachable, or it's not, what's your guidance?

DEAN: I think common sense comes to play. They're going to know if these are offensive acts or not.

If there was some sort of conspiracy that the President was part of, if his campaign was indeed helping the Russians figure out how to target on social media, you know, who knows where this might go?

But we do know that - that they have gotten to the bottom of it. And at some point, that's going to be public.

And I think people - just like the normal jury will decide, you know, does this play or doesn't it play? Is it offensive or not offensive? So, I think common sense is always the essential element.

CUOMO: It's an interesting word, offensive. Your perspective is, you know, so strong because you've lived this reality once before. So, John, honestly, I'm going to keep leaning on you about this because we're going to be desperate--

DEAN: You got it.

CUOMO: --for perspective. Elliot Williams, welcome to the show, well argued. John Dean, thank you, as always.

And why do we ask and refer to Watergate? Because this is going to be a next chapter of that kind of political trial, so brush up on what happened.

You don't want to miss CNN's Original Series, Tricky Dick. It premieres this Sunday night, 9:00 Eastern and Pacific, only on CNN.

Question, what took so long for our government to ground the same jets that went down overseas? Was it money put ahead of safety? My next guest knows all about the inner workings of the FAA.

We got to dig for perspective. We did that. We have it. Some light will be shed, next.

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CUOMO: All right, look, the timing matters in this plane story. A day after much of the world grounded Boeing 737 MAX 8 jets, now the United States is following.

The President today announced the grounding of these models, MAX 8 and 9, and there's been mounting pressure, but he did it, or the FAA did it. I still don't understand that. I'm going to ask our guest. But why?

Is it this new satellite data suggesting similarities between the deadly crash in Ethiopia and another accident of the same plane last October? Seems the Trump Administration is doing the right thing in the interest of public safety. But did we get there the wrong way?

Let's ask Aviation Expert and former FAA Safety Inspector, David Soucie, also the Author of Why Planes Crash. Welcome to PRIME TIME, brother. It's the first time I've had you on here, but you and I have spent a lot of time together. It's good to have you.

So, here's the suggestion.

DAVID SOUCIE, FORMER FAA SAFETY INSPECTOR, "WHY PLANES CRASH" AUTHOR: Yes, we have, Chris.

CUOMO: Do you think that this decision was all about waiting for critical mass of data and getting it right, and that the satellite images that they found up in Canada or whatever was the tipping point? Or do you think that's an excuse?

SOUCIE: Oh, it's - it's certainly an excuse. I had that data. Everyone had that data. ADS-B data is transmitted freely to the open market. Anyone can get

it. I had it. Some analysts that I work with had it, and which showed clearly that the - the flight - this flight was so parallel to the difficulties that Lion Air had.

It was imminent to us now Elwell, the - the Administrator is saying, "Well, we didn't have that data before but we do now." They didn't have to dig the black box out of the dirt to find that data. That data was transmitted via satellite to everyone on the planet.

So, why did he say he has it now, and now he decides, "I'm going to do the right thing for safety and ground the aircraft?"

CUOMO: So, what's going on here? I mean is this suggest about lying to us and why would you lie about something that's going to be so easily discovered? What are the pressure points?

SOUCIE: Well, I think there's two things, Chris, is an over-investment in your safety system.

When you think things are safe, when you convince yourself that your safety system is fine, we were - we're robust, we know what we're doing, we're going to find these risks and manage them the way that we're supposed to, you get overconfident in that system, and you forget that what you really have to do is check yourself to see if you've swayed your decisions, or if there's something that you're not looking at.

[21:40:00] And I think that's what happened here. I think they became so strongly committed to the fact that we have safe aircraft that they weren't willing to take that step back and say, "Hold the bus. Let's just park these airplanes for one minute. Let's figure it out. Let's see what we have going on here, and see if the fixes that we have in place that we put in place after Lion Air, when those come out in April, will that fix the problem? It most likely will, but why take that risk?"

CUOMO: Right. Now, I heard it suggested that well, you know, this isn't new. The FAA always defers to Boeing. It - it - it defers to a lot of different maker. Is that true? Isn't that the opposite of the--

SOUCIE: Oh.

CUOMO: --exigency of oversight?

SOUCIE: Well, it - it kind of is, Chris. But back in 2009, this whole idea of oversight, at least in the aircraft manufacturing side, changed a great deal. The - the FAA kind of extracted itself as the safety process.

They said, "We're now going to be the safety overseers as in we're going to draft up the regulations. Here's how they're supposed to be done. You go do those. But as part of that regulation, you have to have a continuous improvement program. You have to continually self- evaluate and show us that you have a system that fixes safety problems."

So, they did that. And they have this. It's called the safety management system. I worked on it with Dr. Arnt (ph) at the FAA early on. I was the National Business Process Development Lead for the - for the world when it comes to the FAA for almost four years.

We worked on this. It came out great. It worked really well. I'm not sure we had the foresight to know what happens way down the road when the FAA starts getting less involved, and starts not having the critical oversight at the level it needs to have.

CUOMO: Less involved and plus a lot of human capital sharing, and there's a lot of contact between Boeing and the FAA and Boeing and Washington.

Put up the graphic we have, just about the connective tissue here, just, you know, to kind of deal with this idea of was it just about data or is this about something else?

It's the 10th largest lobbying player, all right? 2018 lobbying topped $15 million. They give to everybody. In fact, in this last election, they gave a lot of money to Democrats and Republicans, so it's not just about one party.

Trump oversaw the sale of these MAX planes in Vietnam. They gave him $1 million for the Inauguration, all right? And now, you got a former Boeing Exec that now runs the Pentagon, one of - one of the divisions inside there.

So, is this a little too close for comfort?

SOUCIE: Oh, it gets even closer. You - look at Dan Elwell. I mean Dan Elwell worked for the Aerospace - or what is it? The Aviation Industrial Association, I think it is, and for three or four years, basically lobbying to D.C. about this, and now he's in charge of the FAA.

So, that doesn't make any sense at all to me. But what does make sense, Chris, is that, if I was in that, and I had those close ties with the industry, why in the world would I want to ground that industry?

You know, that's where, I think, someone had skin in the game here. This is where someone had - was responsible for that industry, and was too close to the industry, and didn't want that industry to feel the impact that grounding those airplanes would have.

CUOMO: And, you know, that - there's another weird part of this that happened, not just the timing, but the tone. The President - the White House put out this statement today saying, "They ordered it." I'd never seen that before, you know, the White House doing it.

And then the FAA comes out and says--

SOUCIE: No.

CUOMO: --"No, no, we're in charge." Well that's not true. They work for the Executive.

But the FAA said, "No. We did this. And, obviously, we have the - the Cabinet Secretary on top of us as the Transportation Secretary. She was with us, and so was the President."

But it seemed odd like people wanted credit for this.

SOUCIE: Yes. I mean - and, now, Elaine Chao is saying, "Yes, we were in on it too." We've had - I've had conversations with a couple of gentlemen. I'm on the World Aviation Forum.

And so, what we talk about there is, do we have enough oversight on a global level? Now, we're just talking here about the United States.

CUOMO: Right.

SOUCIE: But this oversight goes to a much higher level than that. And that higher level doesn't exist. So, Fang Liu, who's the Head of the ICAO with - we've had conversations with her about this, and where this is going next.

She's actually meeting or had planned to meet with Elaine Chao next week in D.C. to discuss this very issue. I'm not sure if that's still going to happen or not now because Elaine has made that decision to go ahead and ground these airplanes.

But even if the international community, after realizing that the whole world may have been wrong, but the FAA was right, now we're back in track again, but I - I really think that there's different reasons for why we are at this point than what we might think.

CUOMO: Yes, it just - it doesn't feel right, so we got to stay on it. David Soucie, you've been very helpful, and I will call on you again. Good to see you.

SOUCIE: Thank you, Chris.

CUOMO: All right. You know where David is? Denver, dealing with all that weather.

He's been in the Bureau for six hours waiting to do this hit because he can't get home. That's something to connect with, boy, what's going on in the middle of this country with weather is no joke.

[21:45:00] All right, so investigators are unraveling the largest college admissions scam in U.S. history. A lot of people are asking what should happen to the students who benefited from the crimes. What about their degrees? What about if they're in school? Should they get to stay?

These are tough questions and worthy of a back-and-forth with D. Lemon.

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(END VIDEO CLIP) CUOMO: First of all, we have not heard the half about this type of cheating scandal going on in academics and how people access this type of privilege. We're going to learn more. This guy is not the only guy.

But we already know, parents paid a fortune, lying and cheating to get their kids into prestigious colleges. The adults are facing criminal charges, not because of this scam, but because of the tax implications of the scam.

You got to remember that. This isn't that policed, this world. They tripped a law that was about tax fraud with a bogus charity, not the system itself. What happens to the kids?

USC said it will deny admission to any student connected to the scam. OK. But a lot of these kids have already been admitted. Some have graduated. Now, there are a lot of questions that come up.

I have them. I'm going to use them though in response to the one-and- only D. Lemon. D. Lemon?

DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR, CNN TONIGHT WITH DON LEMON: Yes, sir.

CUOMO: What do you think should happen to the kids who are currently enrolled as an extension of the scam and to those who have graduated?

LEMON: Well that's two different things. The ones who are enrolled, I think they should go. Ones who've graduated, I don't know if there's anything you can really do about that because they - they are - they've left that part of the system, right?

CUOMO: You could pull their parchment. You could de-certify their degree.

LEMON: OK. Well, that - and that's - that's a good call. I didn't even think about that. But I think yes.

CUOMO: They would sue though.

LEMON: And I feel (ph) people - huh?

CUOMO: They would sue. They would sue and say that even though the way they got in, you would argue, is illegitimate, they did the work and got the grades to earn the degree.

LEMON: OK. So, let me say this.

If you - every circuit - every single individual should be judged and reviewed on its own merits, OK? If you got into a school, pretending to be an athlete, and you're not, then I think what you say is fine, if - once you're out of the school.

If you gotten in the school pretending to be something that you're not, and you're still there, I think you should go.

But if you didn't - if you didn't say you're an athlete, and your - your parents has paid a lot of money, and you didn't know, OK, fine, but I think every - should be on individual merits.

[21:50:00] But I don't feel sorry for - I don't know what - how the legal system is going to work this out because this is so new. I don't feel sorry for the kids. People asked me if I felt sorry. "No."

I feel sorry for the kids who didn't get into the school because these people gamed the system. So, you know, I think whatever - I think this - the consequences should be harsh for them. I really do.

CUOMO: Even if the kids didn't know what their parents were doing?

LEMON: Well I think that, again, should be judged on, that's why I said--

CUOMO: Case by case.

LEMON: --individual merit at - case by case. And even if they didn't know, I don't know. I mean their parents still did it. I don't know. I don't know.

CUOMO: This is a tough call. It's one of those things that seems pretty simple. Well, ill-gotten gains, you got to get out, you know.

LEMON: But--

CUOMO: If you - if you - if you did anything else this way, if you stole a car, you got to give the car back--

LEMON: Yes.

CUOMO: --when they catch it.

LEMON: Yes.

CUOMO: This is a tougher call than that. It'll be interesting to see what these schools will do.

LEMON: If you allow it to happen then you keep perpetuating this sort of bad behavior.

So, I'm going to talk to Jemele Hill--

CUOMO: Oh.

LEMON: --the great Sports Journalist and Writer for The Atlantic. She's going to be on to talk about the rigged system. And also, we're going to talk to Mr. Michael Isikoff on everything Russia, including Paul Manafort today.

CUOMO: Strong, strong. See you in a second, Handsome.

LEMON: See you in a bit. No singing tonight, though.

CUOMO: Well we couldn't do better than we did.

The President's still crying "No collusion," today after the Manafort sentencing, even though it had nothing to do with that subject. He keeps saying it because he wants you to believe it.

You need to get ready for what is to come. This is no joke. And I have an argument for how we should examine it, next.

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CUOMO: Mueller's report is coming. Prepare yourself. This is going to be about interpretation. The Left is going to point to more people pleading guilty, among them more close advisers to this President hooked on more charges with more prison time than we have ever seen before.

The President will be more out in front of his defense than you have seen before. This will likely be his obsession. His basic and flawed sales pitch to you will be what was parroted by the Party Head tonight, "Nothing matters."

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DONALD J. TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I can only tell you one thing, again, that was proven today, no collusion. There's no collusion. There's no collusion and there hasn't been collusion. And it was all a big hoax. And you know it. It was done and stated by the Democrats because they lost an election that they should have won.

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CUOMO: Facts first, hoax. By any analysis, Russian interference is all too real. This President knows this better than any of us, as his Intel people, all picked by him, have told him as much.

And during the campaign, he was obviously aware as he cheered on Russia's efforts.

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TRUMP: The Hillary Clinton documents released today by WikiLeaks make more clear than ever just how much is at stake in this election, so much corruption.

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CUOMO: Now, his problem is there was corruption in his ranks. People close to this President lied about contacts with people reasonably suspected to be connected to those interference efforts. Intel confirms the same reality. No hoax.

Then there is the spine of what you will be told by this President and all his pals, "No collusion." They are factually incorrect. But this one is going to cut two ways, and it's going to be a point of division in this country, division that I see a remedy for. I'll finish with that.

Right now, let me tell you, there was collusion. In a legal context, this behavior of secretly cooperating for deceptive purposes taken by itself is not a crime.

So, giving polling that may have helped shape trolling and reaching out to get hacked emails and meeting with Russians with dirt about Clinton, all qualify as collusion. They are all wrong things to do, especially when you've been told not to do it.

Proof of performance on this is the fact that these people around the President lied in every instance to conceal what they did because they knew it was wrong.

So, the first weakness is that not saying collusion is not recognizing the facts, not a hoax. They did wrong things and they knew it, but not a crime, not charged as far as we know, but still wrong.

The President and Company will argue "If it's not a felony, it is fine." Is that the standard that you want for acceptable behavior in a Presidency? That's your question.

Second weakness, the President has let this get personal. He conflates and confuses the relevance of understanding how Russia messed with the election with the idea that their efforts diminish his legitimacy. The proof of this is in what he says all the time.

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TRUMP: And they said, "How do we - how do we solve this horrible problem? We lost an election," that, in theory, some people - I didn't, but some people thought they were going to win, right? And they said, "I have an idea, let's blame Russia."

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CUOMO: He didn't think he was going to win. And the problem is no one created the Russia problem, except this President by denying it.

No one created the suspicion about the involvement of his campaign in Russian efforts, except his people and him by lying about so many contacts and deals and meetings with the wrong people, bad people.

So, gird the loins and get ready to rumble, but know going into it, there is a chance for consensus. Here's the remedy.

If we can all agree that things can be wrong, even if they are not crimes, there's a good chance that the majority of this country will see what comes out of Congress as the fruit of Mueller's probe, and that it is worthy of scrutiny, and it is or is not offensive enough for you to require action.

If you can't agree on that that things can be wrong even if they're not a crime, this is all going to be a Rorschach test. It's going to look like whatever you want it to be, and that will be a great disservice to the truth and to our democracy.

And it will make it that much more likely that the Russians will do this again because the resulting division will be proof that their efforts to confuse what is real and factual, to blur what matters, to play out our differences, this will be the best proof yet that their efforts worked.

Thank you for watching. CNN Tonight With D. Lemon right now.