Return to Transcripts main page


Documents of FBI Raid of Michael Cohen's Home and Office Released; Documents Show Cohen was Paid $500K By Russian-Owned Company While President Trump was in Office; Students Back in School as Firefighters Battle Chemical Fire in Texas; Texas Chemical Fire Expected to Burn for Days; Elizabeth Warren Calls to Nix the Electoral College; Investors to Watch Key Fed Meeting for Economic Outlook; Ex- Trump Attorney Michael Cohen Raid Documents Released. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired March 19, 2019 - 09:00   ET


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.

[09:00:17] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Top of the hour. Good morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow in New York. Jim Sciutto has the day off. And we begin this hour with breaking news.

The clearest picture yet of what investigators were looking for in those dramatic FBI raids of Michael Cohen's home, office and hotel room almost a year ago. A federal judge has just moments ago released hundreds of long sealed documents supporting the Cohen search warrants minus names or details relevant to probes that are still ongoing.

Our Kara Scannell has them, she joins me now.

Of course this is because of media including CNN requesting the right to see these. Now we have them. What are you learning?

KARA SCANNELL, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Poppy. So there are hundreds of pages of documents that were just filed and released by the government relating to the search warrants. And we're starting to come through them now and what we've learned is that the search warrants that the prosecutors in New York started with, it didn't begin there.

You know we had reported that this case was referred by the special counsel's office. And through these search warrant materials we're learning that the special counsel's office had already obtained several search warrants on Michael Cohen's e-mails beginning back to the summer of 2017. Then the special counsel had referred that case to the U.S. attorney's office in Manhattan in February of 2018.

That's when they began their investigation and they issued and asked the judge for approval for various search warrants on Michael Cohen's cell phone, his Gmail accounts, his office, his hotel rooms, and his home looking for information relating to these campaign finance violations but also relating a lot to the other crimes that Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to, false statements to banks, his tax fraud. And when we start to go through this, we're learning that, you know, a

lot of the documents that the prosecutors were looking for, they've interviewed multiple people at some of these banks and they had seen that Michael Cohen's wife was on a lot of these documents. That's something that we have reported was a concern for Michael Cohen and perhaps is one of the reasons why he agreed to plead guilty because of the pressure that could have existed on charging his wife.

Now they don't say in these documents that they were going to charge his wife but you see her name in there repeatedly as someone who is on these financial statements that the prosecutors believe were false and that who's on the tax returns.

Now the interesting part of this and Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to campaign finance violations, now that section of this entirely redacted. The judge had agreed that that was something that could stay redacted because it's an ongoing investigation. It's an area we were looking to see if there would be any additional information about the findings that the government had or who else they might have believed were involved in the campaign finance payments.

That is redacted here. So we have not learned new information on that. But we're starting to get a sense of the scope of the U.S. attorney's office investigation in Michael Cohen looking at all these financial transactions, looking at his taxi medallion business and the amount of evidence that they already had amassed by the time that they had applied for these warrants in early 2018, speaking to numerous bank representatives and others.

So we're still combing through this. It's several hundred pages of documents to support the search warrants. And this is all the probable cause material that they have, the reasons why they believe --

HARLOW: Right.

SCANNELL: -- that there is enough here to get a warrant on the -- to conduct that raid, to examine Michael Cohen's e-mails and his cell phones.

HARLOW: OK, Kara, great reporting. Stand by as you go through this. I have a few questions for you. First of all, your note about the campaign finance part being completely redacted. I suppose it's all up to the judge what is redacted here or not. Does the White House, you know, Trump campaign team have any say in that?

SCANNELL: No. So, Poppy, when the media, including CNN, made the request to the judge for this to be redacted saying it's in the public interest, the prosecutors at the U.S. attorney's office in Manhattan objected to the disclosure of these search warrant materials saying that it relates to an ongoing investigation. And so they didn't believe that that should be made public.

The judge hearing both sides of this agreed and said that he thought that there was a First Amendment right, there was a public interest in having these materials made public, but because of the ongoing investigation he said that the prosecutors could redact the information. He reviewed that information and then yesterday ordered for the release --


SCANNELL: -- of these warrants with that redaction.

HARLOW: So let me ask -- I mean, just to tell people a bit about what we know in terms of what items were taken during these raids of Michael Cohen's various properties, 12 audio recordings, documents related to alleged hush money payments, bank records related to Cohen's personal finances. His cell phone, his computer. And Lanny Davis, one of his attorneys said in a statement that the release of this material, quote, "only furthers Cohen the interest, " his interest, Cohen's, "in continuing to cooperate and providing information and the truth about Donald Trump and the Trump Organization to law enforcement and Congress."

[09:05:13] What -- why is it beneficial to Michael Cohen to keep cooperating despite the fact that he's, you know, about to go to jail.

SCANNELL: Well, what Michael Cohen is gambling for here is that his ongoing cooperation will lend the government to issue a letter asking the judge to give him some leniency in his sentencing. He didn't get it at the outset because he didn't enter into an official cooperation agreement where he would have to admit to knowledge of crimes he's committed or others have committed. Now he didn't get that at the outset because he did not enter into an official cooperation agreement where he would have to admit to his knowledge of any crimes he's committed or others have committed.

He said he didn't want to do that. He wanted to move forward and get through that process more quickly. So he's trying to look for leniency on the back end and saying, well, look, I have been so instrumental in the ongoing investigations. I have continued to meet with prosecutors. I have testified on Capitol Hill. I have given private testimony to lawmakers and in hopes that the government will then step forward at some point and say, well, Michael Cohen was extra helpful. He did provide substantial assistance to these investigations, and so, Judge, could you then lower his sentence, give him credit for this cooperation?

HARLOW: OK. Kara, stand by. Feel free to look down. I know you have to read through these while I get Paul Callan in here, our legal expert on all of this.

Look, I mean, so hundreds of pages, some redactions including the entire campaign finance portion redacted. What are you wondering most out of this?

PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, the first thing, I think it's really extraordinary that Michael Cohen is not objecting to or trying to stop the release of any of this material. This is -- obviously they've got his computer material, they've got cell phone material, they have all kinds of personal documents that could be very, very embarrassing to Cohen. His cooperation, though, with the government makes it clear that he'll

do anything possible to help the government and to get the president, I think. And that's -- he's made that clear in his public statements.

We're getting a look, Poppy, here at what goes on in the sausage making of search warrants. This is normal. A search warrant. They have to appear in front of a judge and show that they have probable cause to search, probable cause that a crime was committed. But when you're searching a lawyer's office or a lawyer's home you expect really that the court looks at a higher standard in releasing and granting search warrants pertaining to that. And we're going to get an inside look at it once we've been through all of these documents.

HARLOW: Yes, which our team including Kara is doing right now.

MJ Lee -- Paul, stay there with us. MJ Lee is also with us who has been on the Cohen beat for a very long time.

MJ, I mean, his team wanted this, it sounds like, from Lanny Davis's statement.

MJ LEE, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER: That's right. And I think as others have already pointed out this just goes to the level of cooperation that Michael Cohen is now willing to give with the various prosecutors that are looking into the many aspects of this investigation. That is ongoing. And I think it's important to note as we start going through these documents today the context of this in the Cohen-Trump relationship which we have been reporting on for so long now that in the beginning there was this dynamic where Michael Cohen believed and hoped that the president and the White House and the people close to the president would have his back.

That when the raid happened last summer in August, when the FBI raided his home, his office and his hotel, there was a sense and there was a hope from Michael Cohen that he would get some kind of signal from the president whether it was from him directly or whether it was through his aide that he would show that he had his back. And that obviously didn't come. And I think the sort of progression that we have seen since that point, since that relationship really publicly soured is really important because that -- all of that has sort of led to today.

And obviously the pathway to today has included that very public and sort of dramatic and fiery hearing. The open public hearing that Michael Cohen participated in on Capitol Hill a few weeks ago where he openly aired his grievances. He openly sort of went after his former boss and said, this is what I know about Donald Trump, the person. This is what I know about Donald Trump and his business.

This is what I know about Donald Trump and his conduct. And it all just goes to show that all just goes to paint a picture of the deep involvement that Michael Cohen appears to now have, again, in cooperating with investigators in the investigations that are continuing. And that is just so significant and worth underscoring today.

[09:10:02] HARLOW: You're so right and so significant for, you know, the person who said he would take a bullet for this president. And look how much a year can change following these raids.

MJ, thank you for the reporting. Stand by.

Kara Scannell, let me jump back over to you. I'm interested in whether -- you know, the fact that the judge agreed with the free press here, you know, and said these should be released. Yes, redacted but released. But the whole campaign finance part is redacted because of the ongoing investigation. Does that lead you to believe that when that investigation concludes, the campaign finance part minus some names is actually going to be unredacted?

SCANNELL: I think that's a real possibility, Poppy. I'm sure CNN and other media organizations will follow up with the judge and ask for that to be redacted because the judge is saying the public does have a right to know the information in this case. And once the investigation is completed I think he will allow this to be made public.

The reason why the -- all this information about Michael Cohen's personal finances and the FBI's effort to establish that he was committing crimes and there was probable cause is public is because that's resolved. He had pleaded guilty to that and admitted those crimes in court. So the same would be true on the campaign finance. I mean one argument the prosecutors made is they didn't want any innocent third parties to be dragged into this.

And the judge is allowing for some redactions there. But I think he was -- you know, in his order he made it clear that, you know, if someone's name was in passing it was not grounds to continue to keep that private because it would be clear from the context that the person perhaps had not done anything wrong. There might be another legal battle down the road on this. But the judge has made it clear that he does believe there is a public interest here. And the reason for redacting this portion of the campaign finance is because prosecutors said it's ongoing.

And we also asked the prosecutors for a status report in mid May about the status of those ongoing investigations. So that is a potential deadline where we might either learn that the investigations are still ongoing or if at that point they have been completed. And then we may learn more information here.

I mean, what's also interesting in just scrolling through these filings and from our colleagues doing the same is that, you know, the special counsel's office had executed three warrants on Cohen's e- mails and one on an iCloud account going back -- you know, all the way back to the campaign finance period in 2016 when those payments to the women were made. And then they referred all of that to the U.S. attorney's office in Manhattan in February of 2018.

And then the U.S. attorney's office here acted very swiftly and had raided Cohen's hotel room office, safety deposit box by early April. So that's one of the new details that we've learned. We also learned that they had what is called a pen register warrant up on Cohen. They were able to see the numbers of -- the numbers that were calling Cohen and the calls that Cohen was making. So they were able to kind of watch and see who Cohen was in contact with. That doesn't give them the ability to know the contents of the conversations, but they were able to look and see who he was talking to at this period of time going back from -- all the way back to 2016 and then subsequently up to early 2018.

And it was very unusual that the U.S. attorney's office had raided Cohen's hotel room office without any notice or without, you know, just asking him for a subpoena. So this is an interesting tidbit here to see that they were watching who he was calling and who he's receiving calls from.

HARLOW: Yes. For two years, absolutely.

Kara, thank you. Great reporting. We'll let you get back to reading it.

Paul Callan, MJ Lee, stand by.

We are poring through these documents. They just came in moments ago. Back with the breaking news right after this.


[09:15:00] POPPY HARLOW, HOST, NEWSROOM: All right, back with our breaking news. A lot of important information coming to light in terms of the search warrants for the FBI raids of Michael Cohen's homes and his office. This comes because of a request for the public to see them from the media including CNN.

Let's get back to our Kara Scannell; our lead reporter on all of this. Kara, I mean, just to show people, this is the first 150 pages and this isn't all of it. So I understand you haven't read all of it, but as you pore through, what is the most important thing that stands out to you?

KARA SCANNELL, CNN REPORTER: Well, I think what's interesting and we're learning is that the special counsel's office had already -- had gotten three of four warrants to search Michael Cohen's e-mails. Beginning their first one application was in July of 2017, that was just about two months after the special counsel's office was formed and began investigating.

And they started looking for e-mails, they had subsequent warrants, they wanted Cohen's e-mails going back to at least the Summer of 2015. So this was -- you know, they were investigating Russia's interference in the election and Cohen is a long-time Trump's personal attorney, he's been involved with the Trump Tower developments in Moscow.

He's been involved with the Trump properties that they've built in the U.S. So Cohen has a long personal history with Trump. And of course, he is the self-described fixer. So we are starting to learn that the special counsel's office began looking at Cohen almost immediately out of the gate.

We're looking for information, his e-mails, they had warrants for his e-mails going back to at least the Summer of 2015. And then it was after several months of that back now in February of 2018 that they make the referral to the U.S. attorney's office in Manhattan.

Then that office issues and requests their own search warrants that the judge grants, and that's for additional devices that Cohen has there and for the properties where a lot of the materials that they're interested in would be located. And that's for the bank fraud violations and for the campaign finance violations.

HARLOW: Kara, before you go, we just got another nugget that I'd like for you to help explain to people. On page 24 of exhibit 1, it shows that Michael Cohen was paid over $500,000 from Columbus Nova from January to August of 2017.

[09:20:00] The importance of that company Columbus Nova LLC is the fact that it is in part important, it is owned by the Russian national Viktor Vekselberg. What can you tell us about the company, him, any relationship to Cohen?

SCANNELL: Right, Poppy, so this was also something that we learned later, that Robert Mueller's team had looked at. He looked at all these consulting contracts that Michael Cohen had entered into, including with the pharmaceutical company Novartis, with AT&T, the parent company of CNN.

And one of those that he also had a consulting contract with was Columbus Nova; it's a U.S. investment firm that has ties to Viktor Vekselberg who is a Russian oligarch, one of the wealthiest men in Russia. Now, Vekselberg is someone who the FBI stopped when his plane landed in the U.S. to question him. That was part of Mueller's investigation.

So all of that kind of carried with it and became known last Summer when Michael Cohen's banking records became public. And we learned that he had all these consulting contracts, that was something that the special counsel's office had also investigated to see what these connections were.

There was nothing ever charged related to these relationships or anything illegal about these relationships. But you know, it was part of this effort by Michael Cohen once he did not go to Washington with Trump when he became president that he started to, you know, look for these consulting contracts with various companies. Essentially selling his access to the president and his knowledge of the president --

HARLOW: Yes --


HARLOW: OK, Kara, thank you, we'll let you get back to this. Paul Callan, to you, let's talk about the significance of the fact that we've now learned from this that Mueller's team of prosecutors was requesting these multiple search warrants on Michael Cohen before the case was referred to the SDNY.

PAUL CALLAN, FORMER NEW YORK CITY HOMICIDE PROSECUTOR: Well, there are two things that I take from this is, first, Mueller obviously had developed leads suggesting a Russian connection with Michael Cohen. And Michael Cohen being the personal counsel to the president, of course that would be directly relevant to Mueller's investigation.

In the end though, he tosses this over to the Southern District of New York who are just the local federal prosecutors because the larger crimes that were developing were crimes relating to Cohen in other respects, other felonies that Cohen ended up pleading guilty to.

But I'm seeing a second thing here developing that I've been kind of looking for, for a long time. And that is, why did Trump throw Cohen under the bus? What was the reason for this? Remember, this is the guy who went out and did the dirty work for Trump, who knows a lot of where all the secrets are buried.

And all of a sudden, the president -- it's clear he's not going to give him a pardon, the two men hate each other. What caused that? I think we're beginning to see the hints of what caused that. Michael Cohen was capitalizing on his relationship with the president to make money as a consultant from Russians and from others.

And I think -- I'm betting the president became very resentful of that, that he was capitalizing on the relationship in a major financial way. And Trump wasn't profiting from it. That may be what really soured the relationship between the two men.

HARLOW: Interesting, all right, Paul, thanks for the legal expertise. MJ, all the background on Michael Cohen and the feelings about this, Kara, for poring through this report, of course we'll get back to you with more as we know it. We do have other breaking news this morning.

Students are back in school today as a chemical fire burns outside of Houston, Texas. The fire has been burning in a petrol chemical store facility since Sunday. Our national correspondent Dianne Gallagher is live with the latest. I mean, huge concern here obviously about, you know, toxic agents in the air, right?

DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I mean, you can imagine for these parents who were there. The school district said everything is OK, they can come back to school today on Tuesday. We just won't let them go outside.

And look, if the district's Facebook page and the school's Facebook page are any indication, it's hard to find a parent who is happy about this. Now, look, ITC and a study that was conducted by the Center for Toxicology and Environmental Health determined that there were low levels of these chemicals in the air there.

So they said, hey, look, it's still safe for them to be in the air, these plumes of smoke are thousands of feet up in the air, it's not affecting anybody. But look, Poppy, there are scientists and experts who say that might only focus on what these acute short-term damages could be.

That we're not really sure what the long-term damages could be, and it's better to be safe than sorry, which again most parents would agree for their children. Now, look, ITC, Intercontinental Terminals Company, it started on Sunday. One tank that's full of these chemicals there, essentially gasoline additives, they caught on fire, it spread to a half a dozen.

They have gotten the fires out of some of these tanks, but they're still burning, they're hoping it might be done by tomorrow. Now, according to ITC, nobody was injured and hospitals around the Deer Park area have said that they don't have any respiratory patients who have been brought in.

[09:25:00] But look, even on social media, the pictures from airplanes of just these giant black plumes of smoke over Deer Park which is just 20 miles outside of Houston, one of the most populated cities in the country are astounding to see.

Now, the chemicals in question here, xylene, toluene and naphtha. And naphtha is the one that a lot of these experts are concerned about. Because there is a theory amongst some scientists that there are no safe levels of naphtha to be exposed to.

So again, the concern being these kids are back in school, people have not been asked to evacuate, but right now all testing, Poppy, says that the air is OK there right now.

HARLOW: OK, Diane, thank you for watching it for us, we'll stay on that. For the first time, Senator Elizabeth Warren calls to nix the electoral college. Will other candidates follow her on that? We're also moments away from the opening bell on Wall Street, all eyes on the Federal Reserve today, they're meeting that will give us insight into what the Fed is thinking about the nation's economy right now, stay with us.