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Analysts Examine New Court Filings in the Russia Probe; James Comey Comments that 2020 Election is Preferable to Impeachment for Removing President Trump from Office. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired December 10, 2018 - 8:00   ET


[08:00:00] ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: -- President Trump is directly implicated in the commission of federal crimes, crimes that the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee calls, quote, impeachable offenses. It is all spelled out by federal prosecutors in the sentencing memo of Mr. Trump's former long-time attorney Michael Cohen. Also revealed, new documents about lies allegedly told by former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort. It scuttled his plea deal with the Feds.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: These are just a few of the new things we learned over the last few days. Prosecutors say Donald Trump instructed Michael Cohen to pay hush money during the campaign to two women who alleged they had affairs with Donald Trump. We also learned Michael Cohen spoke to a Russian offering political synergy in November of 2015, although he did not take a meeting because he already had a connection with the Russian government. We know that Michael is one of at least 14 Trump associates who interacted with Russians during the campaign and presidential transition, that's according to an analysis by "The Washington Post."

CAMEROTA: We've also learned that Michael Cohen lied about negotiations to build that Trump Tower in Moscow, and he claims he discussed the project with then candidate Trump well into the 2016 campaign. Prosecutors also allege Paul Manafort lied about his contacts with the White House. They have messages showing that Manafort was talking to people in the administration earlier this year even after he was indicted. And he also lied about his contacts with a Russian operative who has ties to the military intelligence agency suspected of hacking into the DNC.

BERMAN: And this is just the new stuff. It's the new stuff we've learned the last few days in addition to the indictments of the 12 Russian intelligence operatives for hacking the DNC, it's in addition to Don Junior's meeting at Trump Tower with Russians, promising dirt on Hillary Clinton, an invitation to which Don Junior replied "I love it." And it's in addition to whatever obstruction investigation is going on, just a mountain of controversy and turmoil at the very time the president is losing his chief of staff and having a hard time hiring a new one. Chief of Staff John Kelly out by the end of the year, and the frontrunner to row place him, they guy who was Vice President Pence's chief of staff, Nick Ayers, now says he doesn't want the job. CAMEROTA: OK, so now that we've got all of that out of the way,

there's a lot to discuss. Joining us now, we have CNN counterterrorism analyst Philip Mudd, CNN national security and legal analyst Susan Hennessey, and former U.S. attorney Greg Brower. Phil Mudd, from the criminal investigatory side, which is what you always look at. We've spelled out all of the different details. What's the big picture?

PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: The big picture is we've only seen still, I would say, less than 20 percent of the picture. Understand the players we haven't seen come into focus yet, people like Roger Stone, people in the White House including the president's son and son-in-law. We don't know the extent yet of their relationships with Russia. We know from the documents last week that there were relationships, for example, with Manafort and Cohen that we weren't aware of. We don't know the extent of their financial dealing. My point is, as the Congress is talking about what to do in reaction to the documents last week, I'd say slow your roll. The likelihood that the Mueller team is going to come out with more stuff that is closer to the White House and dirtier both in terms of Russia and money I'd say is about 90 percent.

BERMAN: And Susan Hennessey, Phil says this is just 20 percent. But that 20 percent includes now the president of the United States being implicated in a felony.

SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY AND LEGAL ANALYST: Yes. I think that is one of the most significant new things that we saw in Friday's filings, and that's that the southern district of New York actually said in their own filings that the president had directed Michael Cohen to make these payments in violation of campaign finance law.

Michael Cohen had already stood up in court and testified to that in his plea deal. However, it's different when federal prosecutors are saying that in their own voice. It means that they have other corroborating evidence that they actually believe it to be true. So I do think that that is significant and pretty astounding that we now have federal prosecutors essentially accusing the president of being involved in a crime.

Now, there is one missing element that we don't yet know, which is that a violation has to be knowing and willful. So there's a piece of the president's mental state that it's not yet sort of a slam dunk that they've accused him of committing a crime, but they have certainly directly implicated him. I think it's clear that if he was not the sitting president right now, Donald Trump would, more likely than not, be facing imminent indictment based on those filings.

CAMEROTA: So Greg, that's about the campaign finance law, the directing the hush money payments to the two women who allege that they had affairs with the president before he was president, and he didn't want that coming out. I think we know that. He didn't want that coming out during the election. And then there's all of these other contacts with Russians. We keep putting up this graphic of the 14 people -- we now know, that's more than we knew before Friday, OK, of people who the Russians reached out to.

[08:05:03] Now, these people may not have known they were being duped or that they were being manipulated, but it certainly paints the picture that Russia was looking for inroads to the Trump campaign. As David Gregory has said so often, they were open for business.

GREG BROWER, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: That's right. And for the sake of those 14 and others, I hope that they haven't lied to investigators about those contacts. But clearly between the recent Manafort filing, the Cohen filing, and the Flynn filing, there is apparently a lot of cooperation going on about the campaign's contacts with Russia and with Russians. I think Phil is right, we just know a fraction of it at this point. I have to believe that much more detail is about to come.

BERMAN: And it's interesting, because Jerry Nadler, who will be the House chair of the Judiciary Committee is talking about this in terms that we haven't heard before. I want to play it again. We heard it already this morning, but I think it's so important because I think it moves the football in a significant way. Let's listen.


REP. JERRY NADLER, (D) NEW YORK: Well, they would be impeachable offenses. Whether they are important enough to justify an impeachment is a different question, but certainly they would be impeachable offenses because even though they were committed before the president became president, they were committed in the service of fraudulently obtaining the office. That would be an impeachable offense.


BERMAN: Look, he's saying if he wanted to, he could open hearings. But the political calculation of whether he will or should is a separate matter.

And Phil, I want to go back, if I can, to the point that Alisyn was making before, the David Gregory point, which is that all of these contacts were made by these 14 people connected to the Trump campaign or transition, and really no one said no, or no, thank you, to the Russians, or went to the FBI and said there's a problem here. As someone who has been inside the FBI and someone who has investigated situations like this, when you see the willingness to accept this information, what alarm bells does that set off for you?

MUDD: A couple things for me, John. The first is one of the most difficult things to assess in any case, whether it's what I dealt with in national security or whether you deal with this national security angle, which is people dealing with a hostile foreign power, assessing intent is tough. You look at a dozen plus people who showed the intent to have some level of contact with a hostile foreign power, clearly we know what they were thinking.

The second question, which is more difficult, but let me give you an insight into it, is what they actually did. I think the Mueller team knows this already. If you look at Roger Stone, for example, and his contacts with the Russians and his subordinates contacts with the Russians, presumably the Mueller team has access to everything from interviews with people around Stone to harder information,his travel calendar, his phone information, his e-mail information. So we see the intent in what we've seen visibly from Mueller, people who wanted to talk to Russia. I suspect that Mueller already knows whether the team, including Roger Stone, did talk to Russia and whether they took something of value.

CAMEROTA: Susan, despite all of this, James Comey was just interviewed over the weekend. And he said that he does not -- well, he does not want President Trump to be impeached. Here is his reason.


JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: I hope Donald Trump is not removed from office by impeachment because it would let the country off the hook. And it would drive into the fabric of our nation a third of the people believing there was a coup. And we need a moment of inflection where we all get off the couch and say that is not who we are, and in a landslide rid ourselves of this attack on our values. And if, in a way, we short-circuited that with an important, legitimate process to the Constitution, I worry that we would be letting ourselves off the hook in a way, and we wouldn't have the moment of clarity that we need in this country. That said, if the facts are there and the legislative houses of Congress think it's appropriate, that's fine.


CAMEROTA: Susan, what about his point? This is what elections are for, is what he's saying.

HENNESSEY: I think the ideal scenario of course is that a president serves out his term of office and the American people decide every four years. What impeachment is there for is an emergency release valve, whenever you have a president who is not competent to continue to serve in the office. And I think it is important that we understand that we not over-politicize impeachment, even though it is obviously a political remedy. This is one of the Congress' most important powers. It's not unlike the power to declare war. It is something that really does rip at the fabric of the nation and it should only be employed when it is absolutely necessary to remove someone from office.

One thing we haven't seen, certainly from Congressional Republicans, is the things you would expect in advance of impeachment, putting those Congressional constraints on the president, engaging in serious Congressional fact finding. I think what those filings show from Friday is that things are going to get worse for the president from here by every indication.

[08:10:04] And so Congressional Republicans are looking around and deciding what does this evolve to over the next six or eight months, is this going to wind up in a crisis point that actually does bring a lot of other people down with it? That is certainly -- it was bad news what they saw Friday afternoon. BERMAN: It is interesting, though, Jerry Nadler, who will be the

chair of the House Judiciary Committee, which is where it would all begin, if there's going to be impeachment, basically told Jake yesterday we are not there yet. It is not happening now. So you would need to see more to trigger, in Jerry Nadler's mind, and his mind may be the one that matters here. Greg, I want to put up the tweet from George Conway about this, who is reflecting on James Comey's comments about whether or not it is impeachment now and Comey saying that he wants to wait till 2021. George Conway tweets "I am increasingly optimistic that we can do better than this." George Conway, of course, is married to Kellyanne Conway, senior adviser to the president, but is also a really good lawyer, is looking at all this and saying that the evidence is mounting. Greg, how much evidence do you think there would be in order to trigger something like that?

BROWER: Another fascinating tweet by George Conway. I agree with Jim Comey's point, especially the last part of his point, which is that if the evidence becomes overwhelming, then the Constitution does contemplate impeachment as a remedy. I would submit that the House Democrats would be well advised that impeachment proceedings should only really commence in a bipartisan way. If the facts and the evidence are such that the House majority can get Republicans on board with conducting hearings, and it's truly a bipartisan effort, with some assurance that the Senate would, in a bipartisan way, carefully consider the evidence in a trial that would then commence in the Senate, then I think the American people would support impeachment. But anything short of that, I would agree with Jim Comey, it might look too political, too partisan to the American people.

CAMEROTA: Hey Phil, now that things appear to be at least after Friday happening in a much more rapid-fire way where these disclosures that are big are coming out for all of us to see, any way for you to tell what you think Robert Mueller timeframe is?

MUDD: No, partly because we continue to see evidence of people lying, and we continue to see a volume of evidence of things like Russia contacts going back in some cases three years or more that tell me that interviews where people were lying and mountains of data where you're getting financial information, travel information, phone information are piling up. I would have thought this would have shut down last summer.

That said, I don't know how many more interviews you have to conduct. You do have, as you know, from a few weeks ago, the documentation from the president where he answers questions. That, to me, suggests we're getting into end game. You don't go to the key player in the investigation until you've looked at all the peripheral players. I said last summer we'd shut down. If we're not shut down this spring, I'm going to give up predicting. I'm done. I would have predicted, for example, just to tell John that the New England Patriots would have won yesterday, but they really mailed it in. So I'm wrong on a lot of these predictions

BERMAN: That's gratuitous. I'm throwing a flag on that.


CAMEROTA: I'm giving him the tissues again. He's devastated.

BERMAN: Susan, I want to give you the last word, because Phil doesn't deserve it after that, which is you look at Jerome Corsi, for instance, who a plea deal agreement written out to negotiate with his lawyers, with the special counsel's office. Do you think we will ultimately see him charged? Would they have gone that far if they weren't going to then charge him? And where is Roger Stone? And might we see this all before Christmas?

HENNESSEY: Yes. I think it's clear that we are going to see at least a few more indictments before this comes to a conclusion. Whenever we talk about whether or not Mueller is wrapping up, I think Mueller is getting to the end of his investigation. And whether that's on a timeframe of several weeks or several months, nobody knows, but the end of the investigation is the start of something else. So whenever we think about what might be in that Mueller report, what he might be handing over to congress, what other indictments might still be coming down the pipeline, I do that we are seeing more and more the conclusion or the end of the special counsel's probe might be bad news for the president and not good news.

BERMAN: Greg, Susan, and even Phil, thank you this morning. We appreciate it.


CAMEROTA: Thank you, guys.

Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper is staffing up ahead of a possible 2020 presidential run. What does he think it would take to beat President Trump? We'll ask him, next.


CAMEROTA: For the first time, Federal prosecutors are directly implicating President Trump in campaign finance law violations. This came to light in court documents connected to the sentencing of his long-time personal attorney, Michael Cohen.

Joining us now is Colorado's Democratic governor, John Hickenlooper, a potential challenger to President Trump in 2020. Governor, great to have you here in studio.


CAMEROTA: I know that you're mulling a Presidential run. There's no secret. In fact, even staffing up, as far as we can tell. When you hear disclosures like those that came out on Friday, does it move the needle for you where you say, "Oh, yes, I'm jumping into the race."

HICKENLOOPER: No. I don't think that's the part we're looking at. It does make me raise my eyebrow. I mean, every time I think, "Well, it can't take a different turn," but he certainly - you know, President Trump has really focused us keeping our eye balls on him., and you know, he finds a million ways to do it.

CAMEROTA: But I mean, I'm not sure he wants the campaign finance law violation to be one of the ways he's garnering attention. And so I mean, what came out in these documents that individual one, who is known to be President Trump, directed Michael Cohen to make pay these hush money payments to these women who alleged affairs with President Trump, is that an impeachable offense to you?

HICKENLOOPER: Well, once it is - if it is proven and you get to that point, it certainly is - at least as I interpret the legal definitions, I have to caution you, I'm not a lawyer. So I know about what you know. I've talked to lawyers and I've read the newspapers, but he certainly is going to have to, at some point, come clean himself. And I think that's what the process of what's beginning to take shape is going to get some clarity.

CAMEROTA: What does that look like?

HICKENLOOPER: I think it looks like - I think it looks like his tax returns is an interesting thing to see, we are going to judge and assess his relationship with Russia and what his motivations were. Some of those things that historically almost every presidential candidate or every President discloses to the American people.


HICKENLOOPER: He, for whatever reason, hasn't, it would be nice to know why.

CAMEROTA: You're not a lawyer. I'm not a lawyer. So let's talk about the politics in which you are, do you think the Democrats, I mean, you know, come January, is that what the judiciary committee, et cetera, should start pushing for, is to impeach the President?

HICKENLOOPER: Well, I think the fact patterns as they evolve are going to direct that direction. But I think, you know, Congressman Nadler really was correct in saying we're a long way from here to there. Let's see where it takes us.

I would argue that independent of impeachment proceedings, we're seeing all kinds of evidence that the Trump presidency isn't succeeding. It's not taking America where it needs to go. It certainly isn't fulfilling his promises to the rural parts of America, the tariff wars, the trade embargos. That is directly hurting farmers and ranchers all over this country.

CAMEROTA: As you just said, President Trump has an uncanny ability to keep all eyes on him. He certainly can command a rally. He is a big presence in a room. How do you win against that?

HICKENLOOPER: Oh, you know, it's funny. He's a big presence in the room, but it's all based around a bluster and, really, in basic ways, he's kind of a bully. I mean, you step back and look at him. You know, you grow up a skinny kid with thick glasses with a name like Hickenlooper, I grew up dealing with bullies on the playground. And it's not that hard, right? A, you don't give them the attention. You ignore them. And when they

say something that's directly antagonistic in some way, you twist it just a little bit so they become the butt of their own attack, in other words, you use humor to marginalize them.

People don't pay attention to a bully, they get frustrated and go away.

CAMEROTA: The lessons you learned on the playground. There's a book in there. Here is the list of potential Democratic candidates for 2020, and it's long already. I can go through it. Beto O'Rourke, Vice President Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Corey Booker, Bernie Sanders, you are on there, Terry McAuliffe, Michael Bloomberg -- you know the debate that the Democratic Party is having right now. Is it time to have somebody of color, and a woman and somebody younger or somebody more establishment?

HICKENLOOPER: I think that the Democrats across the country are going to help decide that. And I'm not sure it's clear what is exactly needed, but I do know there are a lot of strong opinions and that list shows the strength of the Democratic Party. I mean, there are people from all walks of life.

CAMEROTA: But as a white guy, are you trying to calculate whether or not this is the right time for you?

HICKENLOOPER: Well, this is the time it's worked out, right, I've finished my term as governor. I finish in one month and I have an opportunity to take what we've done in Colorado. We went from 40th in job creation to number one in economy in the country. We've got one of the top rural economies in the country. I think there's a point where someone like me - I'm an entrepreneur, I'm a problem solver, I've been good at bringing people together that historically have been antagonistic. Maybe the country needs someone that can bring the divided parts of the country and divided constituencies back together.

CAMEROTA: So after Friday's disclosures, on a scale of one to ten, 10 being you're running, how close are you?

HICKENLOOPER: I would say we're past 50/50. I think we're probably 63%, 64%. Six point four, six point five.

CAMEROTA: You're at a seven?

HICKENLOOPER: Maybe not quite, but getting there. I mean, it's an interesting time with so many candidates. You know, again, I look at things from a different filter than most of the other candidates out there, and I think people say Colorado is a fly-over state. Denver was a cow town. But we've changed dramatically in the last couple of decades and I think a lot of those changes and sort of how we did it, how we worked together, it's a message that people should here even if they decide they want to sure that we have the first African-American woman as President. The lessons from Colorado still have value.

CAMEROTA: It sounds like you are leaning toward running. Any announcement you would like to make here? HICKENLOOPER: Just how much I love my wife.

CAMEROTA: That's a good start.

HICKENLOOPER: Always a good start.

CAMEROTA: Okay, Governor Hickenlooper, great to talk to you. Thank you so much for being here with us on "New Day."



JOHN BERMAN, HOST, NEW DAY: He's a 10 on that one; 6.4 on the President thing.

CAMEROTA: That was great.

BERMAN: All right, 20 years after President Bill Clinton's impeachment, there are some compelling parallels to the Robert Mueller Russia investigation. A key member of Ken Starr's special counsel team, independent counsel team in that case joins us next.


BERMAN: Twenty years ago this month, Bill Clinton became only the second President in American history to be impeached. Now, another presidency is in peril and it's hard not to think about some similarities between the Ken Starr investigation and Robert Mueller's investigation.

Joining me to discuss, Stephen Binhak, he is a former associate independent counsel in the investigation of Whitewater and President Clinton. Stephen, thank you so much for being with us. Ken Starr, who your boss, has says there are a lot of eerie echoes here. Do you see it like that?

STEPHEN BINHAK, FORMER ASSOCIATE INDEPENDENT COUNSEL IN WHITEWATER INVESTIGATION: Yes, well, that's true. And you see that generally for two basic reasons. Number one, is you see basic similarities in any criminal investigation. People lie about their conduct. People often obstruct justice in the investigation and people often do crime with people they know and trust like their friends or their associates.

But also in particular in a presidential inquiry, you have the special counsel, you have a very public defense and a very public - great public attention. You have the prospect of impeachment and you have the prospect of pardons, so baked into the equation, you're going to get a lot of similarity before you even start.

But even here, there are some similarities that go beyond that, that are quite interesting.

BERMAN: Right, and another one of the similarities here, we always say, in journalism, unfortunately, it's not illegal to lie to the press, but you have Presidents who have said things that are dishonest to the American people. I want to play some of the things that Bill Clinton said and some of the things that President Trump has said in their various investigations.


BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I did not have sexual relations with that woman.