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New Michael Cohen E-Mails Revealed; Manafort Gets More Time, More Charges; Boeing 737 MAX 8 Grounded. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired March 13, 2019 - 16:00   ET




Thanks for being with me.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: The president takes a bunch of planes out of commission for now. And a judge does the same to his former campaign chair.

THE LEAD starts right now.

Breaking today, minutes after a federal judge piles on more prison time for former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort, the state of New York jumps in with brand-new charges, ones that are pardon-proof. And now President Trump is responding.

Then, CNN obtains e-mails that reveal a back channel between team Trump and then loyal fixer Michael Cohen, one saying -- quote -- "You will sleep well tonight" to Michael Cohen. Was a pardon being dangled?

Also, breaking minutes ago, the FAA revealing new evidence, seeming to connect two deadly plane crashes involving the same Boeing jet, as President Trump follows the rest of the world, basically, in finally grounding that plane

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We begin with breaking news, a one-two punch for President Trump's former campaign chair Paul Manafort today. Minutes after Manafort learned he would be going to prison for seven-and-a-half years total, the Manhattan district attorney announced 16 state charges against him, crimes for which he cannot be pardoned by President Trump if found guilty.

Manafort's team seemed to be signaling to the president that Manafort remains loyal, perhaps hinting for a pardon. Immediately after the sentencing today, Manafort's attorney came out and falsely said that the judge had ruled there was -- quote -- "no collusion."

It's something the president again repeated just a few minutes ago. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I can only tell you one thing, again, that was proven today. No collusion. There is no collusion. There is no collusion. And there hasn't been collusion. And it was all a big hoax.


TAPPER: That claim that no collusion or no conspiracy was proven today, that's false. What the judge actually said was that matters of collusion or conspiracy were not being discussed in court.

The judge actually even admonished Manafort's attorneys for their whole no collusion reference, calling it a non sequitur.

Now, in the past, President Trump has said he has not ruled out a pardon for Mr. Manafort. Minutes ago, he said this:


TRUMP: I have not even given it a thought as of this moment. It's not something that is right now in my mind. I do feel badly for Paul Manafort. That, I can tell you.


TAPPER: An ally of the president's is already warning him against pardoning Manafort.

Senator Lindsey Graham today told CNN it would be a -- quote -- "political disaster' for the president to do so now.

But barring any action from the president, Manafort, who was instrumental in getting Donald Trump elected, is now looking at serving several years behind bars.

We have our team of reporters covering all angles of the story.

CNN's Sara Murray starts off our coverage from outside the courthouse.


SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A Federal judge in D.C. piling on to Paul Manafort prison time today, bringing the former Trump campaign's chairman sentence to seven-and-a- half years in a federal penitentiary.

After being convicted of financial crimes in Virginia, Manafort was already sentenced to nearly four years behind bars. Today, Judge Amy Berman Jackson piled 43 months on top of that for charges Manafort pleaded guilty to in D.C., conspiracy against the U.S. and conspiracy witness tampering.

Dressed in a suit, instead of an inmate jumpsuit, Manafort showed little emotion as he spoke from a wheelchair. "I am sorry for what I have done," he said. "Let me be clear, I accept the responsibility for the acts that caused me to be here today."

In a plea for leniency, Manafort said: "Your honor, I will be 70 years old in a few weeks," adding, "Please let my wife and I be together."

Manafort's lawyer also painted his client in a sympathetic light, claiming, but for the 2016 election, Manafort would not be in this situation.

But Judge Jackson blasted that approach to the case, saying, "I'm sorry I got caught is not an inspiring plea for leniency."

The judge spoke directly to Manafort about his foreign lobbying, saying: "He lied to Congress and the American people. If the people don't have the facts, democracy doesn't work."

She later rebuked Manafort for lying to prosecutors after his arrest, noting: "Court is one of those places where facts still matter."

Judge Jackson also took issue with the assertion from Manafort's team that the charges Manafort faced were not linked to Russian collusion. She dismissed those claims as a non sequitur in this case, calling them "just one more thing that's inconsistent with the notion of any genuine acceptance of responsibility."

But with the possibility of a presidential pardon still on the table, Manafort's attorney was quick to step outside the courthouse and reiterate one of President Trump's favorite talking points: no collusion.

KEVIN DOWNING, ATTORNEY FOR PAUL MANAFORT: Judge Jackson conceded that there was absolutely no evidence of any Russian collusion in this case. So that makes two courts.



MURRAY: Now, between the two sentences that Manafort faced in Virginia, as well as D.C., it could have been much worse for him.

But it's very clear that his legal team was not happy. On his way out of the courthouse, one of Manafort's attorneys criticized the judge's callousness in handing down this sentence today, Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Sara Murray, thanks so much.

Let's now go to CNN's Kara Scannell.

And, Kara, the Manhattan district attorney, CYRUS VANCE, announced this new criminal case against Manafort just after he learned his prison sentence today. And Vance seemed to have a message specifically for Manafort.


I mean, these charges were announced just moments after the judge had sentenced Paul Manafort, bringing to an end the federal aspect of his legal ordeal. But Cyrus Vance came out saying that: "No one is beyond the law in New York. I thank our prosecutors for their meticulous investigation, which has yielded serious criminal charges for which the defendant has not been held accountable."

Now, the DA's office has unveiled this indictment, charging Manafort with 16 counts of state crimes. That includes residential mortgage fraud, attempting to commit residential mortgage fraud, falsifying business records in a scheme to defraud, and conspiracy.

Now, these charges, the most serious of them carries a prison sentence -- that's the residential mortgage fraud charge -- of one to three years at a minimum in prison or a maximum of eight-and-a-third to 25 years in prison if convicted.

Now, the question here, as we have been talking about, is, these charges would be pardon-proof, but it doesn't mean that Manafort's team won't fight them. There's the question of double jeopardy and that's likely to be one that will be litigated in court, Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Kara Scannell, thanks so much.

I want to bring in our legal experts, as well as a former FBI official, Phil Mudd.

Elie, let me start with you.

How significant are these fraud charges coming from the Manhattan district attorney, Cy Vance? Is there an argument to be made that this is just politically motivated?

ELIE HONIG, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: They are significant charges, but I don't think it's a good look at all for the DA's office or for prosecutors in general for a couple reasons.

First of all, when I was with DOJ, we overlapped with the Manhattan DA several times. And what you do is, you go over and you meet and you do what law enforcement officials call deconflict. Who does it make most sense to charge this? You don't pile on one charge after the other.

The timing today, I think, makes it look overtly political. To announce this minutes after the sentencing, I think is a bad look. Prosecutors are supposed to be apolitical. And I don't even know if it does what the DA is hoping it does, because while it's pardon- proof, as Kara said, there is a pretty strong double jeopardy argument.

I think it looks like some of these charges overlap with what Manafort already has been charged with, and had a final disposition on. So he may have a very strong double jeopardy argument here too.

TAPPER: Do you agree?

GENE ROSSI, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: I agree, except for the double jeopardy argument. Under the Supreme Court case law, each state in the United States are separate sovereigns.

I believe, Elie, there's a New York law on double jeopardy, so the charges will stand, if the elements of the New York charges are different.

But I agree with you 100 percent. It looks bad. The timing, they released it minutes after the sentencing.

TAPPER: It looks like they're saying, President Trump, if you pardon him, we're going to come at him.

ROSSI: It's killing a fly with a bazooka. And I got to tell you, I was a very aggressive prosecutor for 27 years. I'm a little disturbed that these charges were filed in New York.

TAPPER: Laura, let's turn to the idea that Manafort's attorneys seem to be signaling that they want a pardon.

Take a listen to his attorney Mr. Downing talking about how there was no collusion, when obviously that's not exactly what happened. Take a listen.


DOWNING: Judge Jackson conceded that there was absolutely no evidence of any Russian collusion in this case. So that makes two courts that ruled no evidence of any collusion with any Russians.



TAPPER: Actually, I think the hecklers are right.



LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: They're liar, yes, because he's being disingenuous, because two courts have not found that there is no evidence of collusion in the cases before them.

What they have been focused on is the cases and the evidentiary burdens before them. You know what else wasn't there? Murder. There wasn't discussion on kidnapping either, because those things were not actually before the court.

ROSSI: A hate crime.

COATES: A hate crime. They weren't all there.

But the reason that they're putting this out and what Judge Amy Berman Jackson pointed out was the notion is, perhaps you're not trying to persuade me, but perhaps another audience, because what they have said essentially parrots almost to the T. what the president of the United States has been talking about every time this case has been mentioned. It's a no collusion motif that goes on. The memes are apparent. But, ultimately, what she was decided was not collusion. What she was deciding was a case and a chart that he pled guilty to. Unlike in Virginia, when he had an opportunity to say until he's blue in the face he's innocent, he said he did these crimes.

He said that he did this, under no uncertain circumstances. And so I think she was addressing that. And she should have.

TAPPER: And, Phil, let me ask you, because you didn't seem all that sympathetic during Sara Murray's piece when she was playing Paul Manafort talking about, I'm going to turn 70 in a few weeks, please let me be with my wife.

And you didn't seem particularly...



By the way, once I was convicted of a crime -- let me break news on CNN -- misdemeanor speeding, 1984. Can you imagine going before a judge, Judge, I wasn't convicted of murder, you should let me go?

I mean, the crimes are not the same. But let's go back to Paul Manafort. Time and time again, you're off a boat, you fall off the ship. Here's a lifeline. Here's a lifeline. Here's a lifeline.

He gets a plea agreement. He says no. He gets probation. He lies. He goes into a courtroom and says, I'm going to lie again. And judges repeatedly in Virginia and in D.C., District of Columbia, say you're lying -- not only judges, but juries, you're lying.

And now with the end of the game, he says, I'm 70, I lied repeatedly. I chose to spend a lot of federal government money for the trial. And now I feel bad because I got convicted.

Of course, he's 70. I feel bad for him. But at a professional level, you got lifeline after lifeline. And you said no. And then you said, why am I drowning? I mean, not that hard.

TAPPER: Elie, Judge Amy Berman Jackson said the sentence today could not be a -- quote -- "review or revision of what's happening in another court," referring to the ruling in Virginia.

You called last week's sentencing an injustice. What do you make of today's? And do you think the seven-and-a-half years is fair or too light, too tough?

What do you think?

HONIG: I still think it's too light.

When you look at the totality of what Paul Manafort did, and I think Phil talked about this, the guy wrote a whole new textbook on obstructing justice. Every step of the way, he lied to banks, to the IRS, to the FBI, to his own lawyers, to Congress, to the court, to Mueller.

I mean, that is serious stuff. I know people try to play it off as this is a process crime. But those of us who've worked in the system, all of us, know that that hits at the heart of what we try to do in the criminal justice system every day.

And, by the way, let's not forget he stole millions of dollars from the United States government. And that's why it's so strange to see the president just today say, I feel bad for him. Feel bad? He stole $6 million from the government that you're supposed to be running.

COATES: And, by the way, I think it's a benefit of the bargain he got.

When he pled guilty to these two crimes, it meant that the prosecutors were not going to try him for more crimes in D.C., and that they would not try and for the 10 additional counts that they had a hung jury on. He got the benefit of the bargain by saying, you don't have to go to trial.

Then you lie, then you don't hold up your end of the bargain. And you get a sentence that reflects that you have not understood the gravitas. Remember, it was Judge Jackson who put him in jail because he was trying to tamper with witnesses to avoid having justice served.

TAPPER: And I want to mention also "USA Today" did an analysis of all 67,000 defendants sentenced in federal court in 2017, found only one other fraud defendant that got the kind of sentence that fell way below the guidelines like Manafort did last week.

So the time Manafort was sentenced to was quite unusual.


I want to follow up on what Elie said. We were both prosecutors. When you have a cooperator -- and Paul Manafort was to cooperator after he agreed to the charges in D.C. and Virginia -- and he met with the prosecutors for countless hours and days.

And what really disturbed and would have sent me off is, his attorneys, after proffers, were calling the White House and given them inside information on the questions that were asked at the proffer.

I would have asked for 15 to 20 years just to send a message that if you plead guilty and you cooperate and you lie repeatedly after getting what you say are the lifelines, you got to pay. So I predicted seven to 10 months (sic). I don't agree that that should be the sentence. But I predicted that's what the judges would do combined.

MUDD: But there's another sentence here. There's a legal sentence and there's a sentence of shame.

Any time he walks into a green room, which we have here at CNN, CNN, for the next 20 years, whenever he gets out, he cannot look at a single member of the press corps, at a single politician without shame. I mean, you look at this individual and you say justice is blind.

You stared at justice and you said no and no and no. You lied repeatedly. He can't walk out of a room again, regardless of whether he gets out of a jail, without shame. People in this town are going to dishonor him.

TAPPER: All right, everyone, thanks so much. Appreciate it.

The CNN exclusive coming up, Michael Cohen told he could -- quote -- "sleep well" tonight in e-mails obtained by CNN. Was a pardon being dangled?

And more breaking news. The evidence that finally changed President Trump's mind on grounding a Boeing jet -- new details from the FAA coming up.

Stay with us.


[16:18:35] TAPPER: Welcome back.

New emails exclusively obtained by CNN show a lawyer who spoke with Rudy Giuliani in April 2018 told Michael Cohen that he could, quote, sleep well tonight, raising new questions about whether the Trump team did actually dangle a possible pardon for the president's former fixer.

Let's bring in CNN's chief political analyst Gloria Borger who's breaking the story.

Gloria, take us through these emails you obtained.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, these are emails as you point out, April 2018, not long after Michael Cohen's office and home were raided and they're from an attorney Bob Costello to Michael Cohen.

And let's go just through some of them. We've got two.

I spoke with Rudy -- meaning Giuliani, of course. Very, very positive. You are loved. Sleep well tonight. You have friends in high places.

And then from another one of these emails, Jake: I just spoke to Rudy Giuliani and told him I was on your team. He asked me to tell you that he knows how tough this is on you and your family and he will make sure to tell the president. He said: Thank you for opening this back channel of communication and asked me to keep in touch.

So, Jake, what we don't have is Michael Cohen's response I should point out, and that would shed a lot of light on this. But we do have different explanations from the various teams about what this all means.

TAPPER: Well, what is the discrepancy about the intent and these messages?

BORGER: So, Cohen's sympathizers say that this is clearly an early effort to dangle a pardon and perhaps even establish some kind of person who can deal with Michael Cohen and then report back to Donald Trump.

[16:20:12] As I said before, it was after the raid, people might have been worried about what had been taken in that raid so there was an interest in sort of a mutual relationship.

But -- I talked to Bob Costello the attorney and he said to me, quote: This is utter nonsense. And what they were in fact doing was trying to smooth out a relationship for Michael Cohen that he was afraid had become not so great with the president after there were some stories in the press about how the president was upset with Michael Cohen after the raid, et cetera.

So, he said, you know, I was just doing what Michael asked me. This had nothing to do with a pardon but it was about making sure that Giuliani knew that Michael Cohen and the president should be on good terms.

TAPPER: And, Gloria, what is Rudy Giuliani saying?

BORGER: Well, Rudy Giuliani, not surprisingly who's a good friend of this attorney has the same story, he told our colleague Dana Bash: I called Costello to reassure him that the president was not mad. It wasn't long after the raid and the president felt bad for Michael Cohen.

TAPPER: All right. Gloria Borger, thanks so much.

Let's dive into this with our political experts here.

Symone, when you hear that somebody who just talked to Rudy Giuliani who was representing the president, tells Michael Cohen who at that point was not cooperating with the state, "sleep well tonight, you have friends in high places," what does that say to you?

SYMONE SANDERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It sounds bad, Jake. It sounds like that someone wanted Michael Cohen and know that everything would be all right. I think this was during the time also when Michael Cohen was still ferociously allegiant --


SANDERS: -- and pledged his allegiance to President Trump. I think given the test Michael Cohen has game during -- in the house and also in closed door testimony in the Senate, not -- but a couple weeks ago, all that has changed.

TAPPER: What do you think, Jen? JEN PSAKI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Look, I think it's important -- we get numb a little bit to the how bizarre this behavior is because there's news every day flowing out that is crazy, and we were talking a little bit before the show about how when I was serving for President Obama when Bill was serving for Vice President Quayle -- I mean, when you would see Loretta Lynch or Jim Comey or somebody who is law enforcement walking the hallways of the White House, you would walk the other way. I mean, you would run the other way because you didn't want to cross bars over.

So I think looking at this when it smells funny, there's probably something funny happening here and we don't know exactly we need to hear from Michael Cohen and know exactly what happened here. But it's just --

DAVID URBAN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Wait, what? You listen to Michael Cohen, the guy who's lied down to Congress like ten times? You take his word for it?

PSAKI: Look, David, I think the problem you have with that argument is that he's backed everything up with documentation and more. So, we'll see what happens --


URBAN: He's going to jail for lying to Congress. He lied again recent times before Congress.

PSAKI: Do you think that an email change was normal? And that's what happened with --


URBAN: -- defense agreement, it is normal. Those things go on. This is what happens.

So, nothing here has been alleged to be untoward right? You have the lawyer from Michael Cohen saying, hey, Cohen asked me to do this, he asked me to reach out.

TAPPER: Right.

URBAN: Symone even says they weren't cross-purposes then. He was still cooperated -- they had a joint cooperation, joint defense agreement. They were working.

Michael Cohen was nervous -- probably has cat on a hot tin roof and he's looking for reassurance, and I don't know -- did Rudy Giuliani tell him he's got friends in high places? This is his lawyer --


TAPPER: His lawyer said it.

Bill, the morning after that first email was sent in April 2018, President Trump tweeted, quote: Most people will flip if the government lets them out of trouble even if it means lying or making up stories. Sorry. I don't see Michael doing that despite the horrible witch hunt and the dishonest media.

Now, Cohen ultimately, of course, did end up flipping. What do you make of all this?

BILL KRISTOL, CONSERVATIVE WRITER: Look, even just talking about the joint defense agreement -- first, I'm shock they have the joint defense agreement with such a horrible person, who you described as a congenital liar.


KRISTOL: How can President Trump -- how can President Trump -- how can President Trump --


URBAN: This is a legal -- it's the status of their legal defense --

KRISTOL: How could President Trump be in a joint defense agree with someone who lies all the time?

TAPPER: But what do you make -- what do you make of sleep well tonight, even if it's your own attorney, sleep well tonight, you have friends in high places?

KRISTOL: Yes, of course, it's an implied promise or suggestion that a pardon would be likely. I don't know if it's legally -- I don't know if it's legally --


TAPPER: Bill, finish.

KRISTOL: I'm not sure legally reaches, you know, a court of law --

TAPPER: Right.

KRISTOL: -- that would be. But, of course, that was the implication. Keep quiet and you'll be taken care of.

TAPPER: And while we're on the subject of Cohen lying --


TAPPER: We should point out that Cohen's testimony before Congress and he said he never asked for a pardon, Cohen's current lawyer tried to clarify -- clarify that testimony after it was revealed that there were conversations between Cohen's attorney --

URBAN: Shocking.

TAPPER: -- and the president's legal team did in fact happen, and -- but Congressman Mark Meadows responded to all this. Michael Cohen unequivocally said he never sought a pardon from the

president but read this letter. His attorney now admits Cohen did ask regarding a pardon through counsel last year.

[16:25:04] They're walking back a claim made unequivocally under oath. "Never" didn't really mean "never". Laughable.

I mean, Cohen is a liar and --

SANDERS: Yes, he's a liar, so I'm not shocked that he didn't have a hundred percent truths when he went before Congress. But I do think to Jen's point that a number of things that Michael Cohen has said, some of the most nefarious things that he has said about the president and the conduct and the stuff that went on, he has backed up with documentation.

And I -- look, this should not be a partisan issue. The things that have alleged to happen, Michael Cohen is going to jail, but just for lying. But let's not forget, he basically named the president as an unindicted co-conspirator. He's going to jail because of things that he did at the behest and the direction of individual one. Individual one is Donald Trump.

URBAN: That's Michael Cohen's testimony.

SANDERS: The president, I just want to go back and note --


URBAN: The guy who's not truthful.

SANDERS: -- that the only reason that Donald Trump --

TAPPER: But she's right about the assertions made by the Southern District of New York.

URBAN: Right. But, so, again, my point is in some of the things, some of the most damning testimony before the House most recently about, I was on a call, I was in the room when Roger Stone called and said about WikiLeaks --


URBAN: -- let's see the proof of all that stuff. The damning, the big smoking gun --

SANDERS: That's not to say that that proof doesn't exist. You're correct, David, we haven't seen that proof. But I just like --

URBAN: But Bob Mueller knows this.

SANDERS: Of course, yes, Michael Cohen is a liar, but is Donald Trump. And at this point, Michael Cohen has receipts, Jake, and the president does not.

TAPPER: I do want to at least touch on the Paul Manafort sentencing. He's now a total of seven and a half years, and again you talk about how we're getting numb to this here, this is the president's former campaign chairman.

PSAKI: Right.

TAPPER: A man who was named as, you know, incredibly important to the president being able to get the nomination. What do you make of it all?

PSAKI: Well, look, I think it was interesting and I'm sure we'll discuss what how we feel about the charges that came out right afterwards. But the fact that those are not pardonable, what I would be interested in is whether that changes his calculus.

Now, I guess it's like what does he have to lose? What does he have to gain? What he has to gain is his own reputation, if he's going to jail anyway. Will it change his calculus?

And if it changes his calculus, there's a lot he knows. I mean, he's the guy who gave the polling data which I continue to believe is one of the most interesting components here to the -- you know, contact and what was in there? How did it impact things?

There are things that he knows that he could share.

TAPPER: The individual with ties to Russian military intelligence.

PSAKI: Exactly, and his proximity to Trump is, you know, there's certainly more we could learn here.

KRISTOL: I mean, just to get back to Jen's original point, the forest and the trees, who were Donald Trump's closest associates? Paul Manafort, his campaign chairman. Roger Stone, his really closest personal advisor. Michael Cohen, his fixer.

What is the character? What is the character of those men and what does that tell you about Donald Trump? In case you had any questions about the character of Donald Trump.



URBAN: OK, because I know facts matter here, right?



URBAN: The facts here in this case, all those individuals went to jail for lying. I'm not saying that's not -- it is inexcusable to lie to the FBI, lie to Congress. But at the root of this, the nub of this, this investigation was about collusion with the Russians.

PSAKI: No, what -- URBAN: Paul Manafort -- hold on, Paul Manafort went to jail for

things that he had done eight, 10, 12 years ago. He's a criminal for doing those things -- bank fraud, wire fraud. He should be prosecuted. He should go to jail.

But he's not going to jail for anything with --


TAPPER: And for obstructing with a witness.

URBAN: And witness tampering which involved the case of bank fraud, wire fraud.

TAPPER: Right.

URBAN: I all kind of wrapped in the --

PSAKI: But collusion was not in the purview of these charges, right?

URBAN: But, listen, I don't --

PSAKI: So, they weren't finding that guilty or not guilty.

URBAN: Listen, it wasn't the purview of these charges, but a court could -- a prosecutor could have brought those charges.

TAPPER: Yes. So, everyone --

URBAN: Mueller looked at this, it's Mueller's indictment. He could have charged with it if he was.

TAPPER: Stick around. We do have some breaking news.

The FAA is now revealing new evidence that prompted President Trump to ground all those Boeing jets. Those details coming up next.

Stay with us.