Return to Transcripts main page


Cohen Search Warrant Documents Released; Trump Slams Congresswoman Omar; Trump's Attack on Dems. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired July 18, 2019 - 12:00   ET


[12:00:00] LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, people here, some say his days are numbered. He is digging in. and it is very -- it is very obvious in that last statement. He says that he has apologized and he was here to serve the people who elected him. But the people of Puerto Rico say this goes beyond chats, this is about dignity and getting rid of corruption.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: We'll see what happens today.

Leyla, thank you so much.

And thank you all so much for joining me. "INSIDE POLITICS" with John King starts right now.

JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. Thank you for sharing your day with us.

New court documents just released detail how candidate Trump, his lawyer, Michael Cohen, and his close aide, Hope Hicks, scrambled after the release of that "Access Hollywood" tape to suppress additional allegations of sexual misbehavior from spilling into public view.

Plus, tonight we learn the lineups for the next rounding of Democratic presidential debates. Joe Biden trying to stop a big slide in the polls. And the CNN debates could be a last chance for some of the candidates struggling at the bottom of the crowded field.

And the scripture tells us love thy neighbor. The Trump re-election script, however, tells you something very different. Rally chants of "send her back" make clear race and resentment are the president's weapons of choice. Today, the House chaplain taking issue.


REV. PATRICK CONROY, U.S. HOUSE CHAPLAIN: This has been a difficult and contentious week in which darker spirits seem to have been at play in the people's House. In your most holy name, I now cast out all spirits of darkness from this chamber, spirits not from you. I cast out the spirit of petty divisiveness.


KING: Back to the debate about race and resentment a bit later, but we begin with breaking news. New documents released last hour prompting a very big and very

uncomfortable question for the White House, did the president commit a crime? Today a judge unsealed search warrant materials in connection to the Michael Cohen case and the effort to buy the silence of women who say they had affairs with the president.

The documents mention the president by name. He is no longer, quote, individual one. They also lay out a timeline that includes a flurry of calls between candidate Trump, lawyer Michael Cohen, campaign adviser Hope Hicks, and tabloid executives. Those calls in the hours following the publication of that now infamous "Access Hollywood" tape.

With us to share their reporting and their legal insights, CNN's Kara Scannell and former assistant U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York Elie Honig.

Kara, start with the documents. What are we learning here?

KARA SCANNELL, CNN REPORTER: Well, John, so we've been examining what is roughly 20 pages of unredacted material. And what it shows us so far, as we're still going through it, is that right after the "Access Hollywood" tape came out, immediately there were a flurry of communications between Michael Cohen, sort of acting in the middle of this in talk with Hope Hicks, with Donald Trump himself and then with the executives of "The National Enquirer," David Pecker and Dylan Howard.

And so after a flurry of these calls and text messages, it ends with this text message from Dylan Howard of "National Enquirer" telling Michael Cohen that, you know, Keith is in on this. Let's reconvene tomorrow. Keith is Keith Davidson, the lawyer for Stormy Daniels.

So, at this moment, the FBI, this is in an affidavit to support the search warrant of Cohen's property. They're saying, we believe we have probable cause that they were trying to negotiate this deal, an illegal campaign contribution. And you really see, through the search warrants, the activity of some of these key players, Donald Trump and Hope Hicks.

And one of the key pieces of this too is that, you know, they strike this deal with Stormy Daniels. She's not going to go public with her story about an alleged affair with Trump. And during this period where they're finishing this up, where Cohen is beginning to wire the $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels, he has at least two conversations with Donald Trump on that day when he is having multiple conversations also with AMI, with Keith Davidson. But he has two conversations that day with Donald Trump. And when Cohen pled guilty, he said he made these payments in coordination with and at the direction of the candidate, Donald Trump.

KING: At the direction of.

Elie, come into the conversation there.

Individual one we knew back in the day was -- was Donald Trump. Now it's clear it is Donald Trump in these documents. So we're learning new details of how this all played out.

What is -- from your perspective, what is the legal jeopardy for the current president of the United States?

ELIE HONIG, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, John, it really looks like the Justice Department policy against indicting the sitting president saved Donald Trump's hide here, at least for now.

Like Kara just laid out, when you see this case, this is the Southern District laying out its case in detail, quoting texts, using specific phone records to show that Donald Trump knew about this right from the very start, was involved in it throughout the whole process of making the payments and was centrally involved.

And so, look, DOJ cannot charge the president now under its own policy. But, remember, there's a five-year statute of limitations. All this stuff happened in late 2016. So if Trump loses the 2020 election, he'll leave office in early 2021, which is still within that five-year statute of limitations. So he needs to think about what his future exposure could be as well.

[12:05:08] KING: And we know the president's position on this has been -- well, he's had shifting positions on this. But one of his positions was that this was Michael Cohen.

I just want to remind our viewers, there is this piece of audio recording of Michael Cohen talking about the payments.


MICHAEL COHEN, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S FORMER ATTORNEY: And I've spoken to Allen Weisselberg about how to set this whole thing up with --

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: So what do we go to pay for this? One-fifty?

COHEN: Funding. Yes. Um, and it's all the stuff.


KING: All the stuff. You can infer what that means there.

Interesting, though, Allen Weisselberg was the CFO, the chief financial officer, of the Trump Organization. This investigation was continuing. We know Michael -- it was part of the case against Michael Cohen. As Elie notes, it's a potential case against President Trump when he leaves office.

Is there anybody else or are they done?

SCANNELL: Well, so as part of the filing today, we did see the prosecutors' note to the judge, you know, this was all prompted because media, including CNN, had wanted access to these materials. And so the prosecutors had to explain to the judge where they were in the course of this investigation, because as the judge had said, you know, this -- these documents were very important for the public to know and to be able to scrutinize them themselves.

And in that just very brief document, the prosecutors said that they had, you know, pretty much completed their investigation into both -- whether anyone else acted with Michael Cohen and whether anyone had lied during the course of this investigation.

Now, they don't say specifically that there won't be any other charges or any other people charged. But what we do know from our reporting is that it is unlikely that there's going to be anyone charged at the Trump Organization.

And as part of this investigation, we have to remember that prosecutors had given key players in this immunity. They gave Allen Weisselberg immunity and they gave David Pecker and Dylan Howard, the other two key people in this whole scramble, also immunity.

KING: And, Elie, to that point, most campaign finance violations are settled with the FEC, they're settled as civil matters. These are documents talking about criminal culpability of potentially Donald Trump and obviously of Michael Cohen.

Where's the line? Where did the prosecutors see the line to make this a criminal case, not a civil case?

HONIG: Yes, I think it all goes to what the bottom line intent is, whether it's mere oversight, as we saw in the Obama administration, just the filing error, or if there was a more coordinated effort to get around the election laws and whether this actually constitutes a contribution.

And I think when you see the timing, the timing here is so key, John, and it's laid out in this document. These affairs had happened years before, yet in early October 2016, as Kara noted, right after that "Access Hollywood" tape comes out and news is starting to look really bad for the president, that's when they all spring into action here. And I think that close tie to the campaign and the efforts to both pull off this payment, big payment, and to cover it up cross it over from the sort of civil realm, the administrative realm over into the criminal realm.

KING: Elie Honig, Kara Scannell, appreciate your legal insights here.

I'd just note for the record, it was also a day later, right, the Podesta e-mails were leaked by WikiLeaks. One day later. Curious timing, huh?

Now some other breaking, legal news.

Jeffrey Epstein has been denied bail and will remain in federal custody. A federal judge ordering the wealthy financier and alleged sex trafficker to remain in jail pending his trial. Epstein is accused of sexually abusing dozens of underage girls, but he has pleaded not guilty. The judge tentatively scheduling a conference in that case for July 31st.

KING: When we come back, the president's re-election rally last night in North Carolina. What it tells us about how he hopes to win four more years.


[12:13:17] KING: Last night an ominous new campaign rally catch phrase stoked by the president's racist smears of four congresswomen of color. This from the crowd directed at Minnesota Congresswoman Ilhan Omar.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Omar has a history of launching vicious anti-Semitic screeds.

CROWD (chanting): Send her back. Send her back. Send her back. Send her back.


KING: "Send her back" now the heir to "lock her up."

The chant was organic. The president did not start it. But he also didn't try to stop it. And the president did invite the four congresswomen at the center of his attacks to get out.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And tonight I have a suggestion for the hate-filled extremists who are constantly trying to tear our country down. They never have anything good to say. That's why I say, hey, if they don't like it, let them leave. Let them leave. Let them leave!


KING: Now, there are some major factual issues with that characterization of the so-called squad. But we know the president doesn't care about that. And we know leave and send her back are about identity, not about ideology, confirming the president once again choosing racial anger, fear and resentment as the lead of his campaign message.

Now, there are scattered calls today among Republicans for the president to abandon the ugliness we saw on display last night, but much more common this morning, Republicans deflecting blame to the president's targets.


MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Should the president, though, tamp this down? Is it his responsibility to tamp this down?

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): I think everybody should tamp it down. As a Republican, why don't you go talk to these people about their rhetoric some too. The point is, they're all American citizens, entitled to their voice.

And when they do provocative things, they're going to be met with provocation. So this is a two-way street, not a one-way street.


[12:15:11] KING: With me to share their reporting and their insights, Toluse Olorunnipa with "The Washington Post," Eliana Johnson with "Politico," Lisa Lerer with "The New York Times," and CNN's Phil Mattingly.

To Senator Graham's point, yes, provocation will be met with provocation. So we can have a debate about Medicare for all. We can have a debate about things Congressman Omar said that are anti- Semitic. But I've never heard the Democrats who disagree with the president say he has to go back to Scotland or Germany, send him back. That's different.

TOLUSE OLORUNNIPA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: And the president has never told other people who he disagrees with to go back to their countries of origin. You've never heard the president or Republicans say that the neo-Nazis or the white supremacists that were in Charlottesville, who espouse anti-Semitic views, should go back to their countries of ancestry. So there is sort of a racial component here that is very blatant and very easy to see. And it's been -- become much more difficult for these Republicans who are trying to defend the president to figure out a way that does not -- that defends him without pointing out that his remarks are seeming to be very much tied to identity and race.

KING: And the president -- some of the president's own aides, and many Republicans who apologize for him at times, or just try to brush it under the rug, try to say for days, well, he didn't really mean the "send her back" part, he was just trying to elevate them to have a conversation about policies he views as socialist, policies he views as extremist and liberal.

The rally last night left no doubt, this is the card the president wants to play.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I think one of the questions was does -- did he intend to send what he send -- sent via Twitter on Sunday morning? And I don't -- Eliana covers the White House and knows the people over there better than anybody, she might have better insight, but I have no idea. The reality is, though, whatever he intended on Sunday, he has now embraced it in full.

What embraced in full, what we all know it to be, which was it was a racist tweet and he's going to continue to double down on that.

I think the difficulty right now in talking to a lot of Republicans throughout the course of this week is you had the scattered number of Republicans come out on Monday eventually, after waiting, and say they had problems with it. Today you talk to them and it's twofold. It's what you saw from Senator Graham, which is, you can't get a single Republican to address this in isolation. Maybe one or two will say we have a major problem with this. Every single one starts with the, well what about them first? Then we should tone it down. And I think if you can't address this in isolation, you're not addressing that this is a significant problem that's only going to continue.

And the other thing here is Republicans just basically saying today, I don't want to deal with this anymore. And the reality is, they're going to have to continue to deal with this because the president has now embraced this as a full-blown strategy going forward. And if they're not going to address it and if they're not going to deal with it, well, it's not going away. So, what happens?

KING: And it's -- it's risky in the sense that if you look at 2018, Nancy Pelosi is speaker, because suburban Republican women said, no, I don't want this. I can't take this anymore. The president is betting it's different in a presidential year with him leading the message. That's a risky bet.

LISA LERER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, I think it is important to stress how much this is a campaign strategy. And there's a lot of academic data and survey data backing up the idea that voters who had a higher sense of white grievance were more likely to vote for the president in 2016. And so this is really identity politics. That is what this is. It's identity politics for white voters.

And, you know, I think as you point out, it is risky. We know that the president, like many first-time candidates, they tend to run the same race over and over again the second time around, so that's part of what he's doing here. He's really fixated, we know, on those three states that he won narrowly last time, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin. He thinks that's where the race will be won and lost. He may be right about that. He may not be. But he sees this as the pathway to get there.

The question is whether he can keep enough of these suburban, more moderate voters who we know like where the economy is but are turned off by his tone. Either get them to stay home or keep them in his camp to avoid -- make up any loss.

ELIANA JOHNSON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: There's two ways to look at it. This -- this may be problematic for the president by alienating those modern women or, you know, moderate men and women, but the president's making a different calculation, which is, these four women, and two of them in particular, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar, have been a problem for Democrats. Nancy Pelosi has tried to marginalize them. The president has now succeeded in making them the center of political conversation all week and forcing Nancy Pelosi to unify with those four women and making them the face of the Democratic Party. He's calculating that those four women are going to alienate moderates and push them back into his camp, as uncomfortable as they may be with his rhetoric.

So I think there is a tug of war over who are these moderate voters more afraid of? Are you more afraid of Trump or are you more afraid of these women?

LERER: Right, one day to deal -- one way to deal with a president whose unpresidential is make somebody else look also unfit for office.

JOHNSON: Yes. Yes, that's right.

KING: But the way to talk -- you mentioned the map. The way to get the president's attention is to talk to him about his map because he obsesses about the map and understandably so. He pulled off an upset that most people thought was impossible.

[12:20:07] Hugh Hewitt, the conservative commentator, trying to get at the president today on this very point tweeting this morning, send her back is a nativist, terrible chant. Also electoral suicide, Hugh Hewitt says. There's more than 400,000 naturalized residents in Pennsylvania, 200,000 more in Michigan. Trump won Pennsylvania and Michigan by 11,000 votes, Pennsylvania by 44,000 votes. Vote her out, fine. Send her back, nativist. Catholics, by the way, remember. Catholics can be swing voters in many states, including those three. Hugh Hewitt making the point there's history here.

OLORUNNIPA: Well, the president talked a little bit about the experts and the other politicians who have told him what he should do in politics. He talked about it last night. He said, you know, a senator came in and said, I've won six out of seven races. And the president says, that's very good, but I won my first race ever trying for the presidency.

So he believes that he has the confidence that, you know, he won on a message that was very much out of line with what other people were telling him to do. He talked about all kinds of things that were incendiary and inflammatory and he was able to win. And now he's surrounded himself with more people who agree with him, the voices who would be sort of trying to rein him in are gone and he's brought in people who believe 100 percent in his message and believe that he did pull off what he said last night was a miracle in 2016 and that by following his instincts, by following his gut, he can do the same in 2020. So I wouldn't be surprised if he continues along that line.

KING: Just moments ago Congressman Omar responding, reacting to the president's comments. Let's listen.


REP. ILHAN OMAR (D-MN): We have said this president is racist. We have condemned his racist remarks. I believe he is fascist.

I want to remind people that this is what this president and his supporters have torn our country, that is supposed to be a country where we allow democratic debate and dissent to take place. And so this is not about me, this is about us fighting for what this country truly should be.


KING: What do you make of that?

LERER: Well, I think you see that the squad, as much as I find it difficult to say that on television as their title, see they're trying to push the party in a certain direction and they believe the party needs to be stronger about calling out the president, the party needs to embrace big, liberal ideas, and that's part of what is going on with those comments.

But I also think that 2016 and the president's ability, as you pointed out, to win that race is very much in Democrats' head. And there are a lot of people in the party who are really nervous about a repeat of that race and are really nervous that he could sort of -- that the laws of political gravity don't apply anymore.

KING: To that point, we'll continue the conversation after a quick break.

Up next, there's some grumbling today among moderate Democrats that the spotlight lingering a bit too long on those four freshmen congresswomen.


[12:27:37] KING: House Democrats today eager to make a point to the president, proving they can advance their agenda despite differences with him and differences within the Democratic family.

The House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, pointedly refusing to comment on the president's rally last night and his new attacks on four congresswomen of color, focusing instead on today's push to advance a key party priority, legislation raising the minimum wage. It passed earlier this hour. The minimum wage in the House plan would go to $15 an hour. Faces a dead end in the Senate, but the House Democrats trying to say, we are trying.

Some moderate Democrats, though, fear they're losing the messaging war. A handful of Democrats telling CNN, in the past 24 hours, they're growing tired of the repeated headlines involving those four progressive congresswomen often called the squad. One Democrat saying, quote, the president won this one. What the president has done politically brilliant. Pelosi was trying to marginalize these folks and the president has now identified the entire party with them.

You were just talking about this a little bit. This is one Democrat talking anonymously. If you want to make a big complaint, you should attach your name to it.

But -- but how big is this? You mentioned if they look at 2016, when everyone told them -- every instinct told them Donald Trump can't win and he did. Is that what it is? They just fear, as much as they don't like it, as much as it might repel them, that it might work?

LERER: Well, I think it gets at this larger debate that the party's been having since they lost the 2016 election. And basically the lines of that are, there is a group who look at the numbers in places like Milwaukee and Detroit and Philadelphia and say, well, what Democrats need to do is mobilize our base, get more young people out, get more voters of color out, that's how you boost the numbers and the margins.

And then there's another group who looks at the losses in more rural working class among white voters and they say, no, the party needs to win those people back, the people who swung from Obama to Trump. And there are very different paths to win those two groups is how the theory goes.

So you have a number of people who believe the party needs to take a more moderate tact, who are looking at the 2020 field and saying, whoa, whoa, whoa, there's too much embracing of Medicare for all, there's too much embracing of free college, and the nominee will be damaged. Even if they aren't someone who's taken those positions, like say Joe Biden, they will be damaged by the overall leftward tilt of this field.

It's unclear if that's true. You can't -- you have to run the race you're in. You can't run -- win by, you know, running -- fighting the last war, necessarily.

[12:30:05] JOHNSON: I think the reason that there's concern about the focus on these four is pretty simple.