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Interview with Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA); Michael Cohen to Testify before Congress on Possible Criminal Activity on Part of President Trump; Michael Cohen to Testify Today That Trump is a "Conman" and "Cheat" Who Knew of WikiLeaks Plot and Trump Tower Meeting. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired February 27, 2019 - 08:00   ET


[08:00:00] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: -- allegations, each of which alone would be huge scandals in and of themselves. The presidency redefining, perhaps threatening scandals. Cohen's plans to provide documents to back up some of his accusations, including two checks. One is this one for $35,000 obtained by CNN. Cohen says that President Trump, then President Trump, wrote it to reimburse him for the payment to Stormy Daniels to keep her quiet about the alleged affair with Mr. Trump. Now, the check, itself, does not indicate what the payment was for. But look at the date -- August 1st, 2017. It was written while Donald Trump was president. And it could put allegations of criminal activities directly in the Oval Office.

Now, the second check also we are told is signed by Donald Trump, Jr., that Cohen claims was another reimbursement payment for the hush money paid to stormy Daniels. An attorney from the Trump Organization declined to comment.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: But remember what President Trump said in April of 2018 about those payments.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. President, did you know about the $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Then why did Michael Cohen make this statement if there was not truth to her allegations?

TRUMP: You'll have to ask Michael Cohenl. Michael is my attorney and you'll have to ask Michael Cohen.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you know where he got the money to make that payment?

TRUMP: I don't know.


CAMEROTA: All right, well, Michael Cohen with answer those questions this morning. Cohen will also say that he witnessed a conversation in July of 2016 where Donald Trump, the candidate, was told in advance that WikiLeaks was planning a massive release of e-mails that would be damaging to Hillary Clinton's campaign. Michael Cohen, of course, is the president's former lawyer and fixer. He is now a convicted felon. He's convicted for lying. So will that color the view of lawmakers today?

And while all of this happens at home, President Trump is in Vietnam for that summit with Kim Jong-un. But he clearly has Michael Cohen on his mind. He is attacking Michael Cohen in an early morning tweet.

Joining us now is Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff of California. He is the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee where Michael Cohen will testify tomorrow behind closed doors. Good morning, Congressman.


CAMEROTA: Have you had a chance to read these 20 pages of prepared opening statement of Michael Cohen yet?

SCHIFF: I have had a chance to read some of them. I haven't really had a chance to digest them. I think we are trying to come to grips with some of the remarkable statements that he is prepared to make.

CAMEROTA: So what is new to you in here? What didn't you know before reading some of this?

SCHIFF: A lot of this we knew. It wasn't public. But in terms of what I think is most significant about the written statement, it certainly indicates that the president had advanced knowledge of the WikiLeaks release, these Russian stolen documents. That would mean if Mr. Cohen is accurate about this that the president has been dishonest with the country about his knowledge of those releases of Russian stolen documents from the Clinton campaign.

He also offers some pretty solid corroboration in terms of the hush money payments if these checks are, in fact, authentic. And I think what you can see also in the written statement is why the office of the special counsel found his testimony credible. Now, we haven't heard it yet, but what strikes me as a former prosecutor as credible about it is that it only goes so far. If he interest was merely in incriminating the president, you would have expected him to say I overheard direct conversations of this or the president told me this or I witnessed that. He could have been much more explicit than the statements in his written testimony. So that does lend it some credibility. But again, what we'll be looking for in our hearing is the corroboration for these accounts.

CAMEROTA: And if you see corroboration, he is apparently going to present two checks. If you see evidence in corroboration, how does that change how you proceed? Because we just had Congresswoman Jackie Speier on who told us that she sees impeachable actions in here.

SCHIFF: First of all, we haven't heard the testimony yet. The original testimony included falsehood, so we need to go through just what part of his testimony was accurate, just what part was inaccurate, what went into those false statements. And also dig down much deeper in terms of the circumstance around his testimony before our committee. In the written statement, he talks, for example, about his testimony being available to the president's personal lawyers. Is that all that he has to offer there, or is there more that we can corroborate in terms of what the president knew about that false testimony?

So there are still a lot of questions to be answered. We really have only the highlights in this written testimony. But we have a lot of hard work to do ahead of us.

CAMEROTA: As you know, because you tweeted about it, remember that explosive "Buzzfeed" account that got so much attention that then Robert Mueller actually distanced himself from and said it wasn't true.

[08:05:07] That was saying that the president of the United States had directed Michael Cohen to lie. And you seized on it and said that was one of the most serious accusations to date that you had heard, you tweeted. Well, he puts more details on that in his opening statement. Let me read this to you. "Mr. Trump did not directly tell me to lie to Congress. That's not how he operates. In conversations we had during the campaign at the same time I was actively negotiating in Russia for him, he would look me in the eye and tell me there is no business in Russia, and then go out and lie to the American people by saying the same thing. In his way, he was telling me to lie." That is obviously less overt and less direct than the way that "Buzzfeed" had depicted it. And so does that change how you see it now?

SCHIFF: What I said at the time is, yes, these were very serious allegations. But I also said at the time these may prove unfounded. And obviously, that original "Buzzfeed" account, at least according to what Mr. Cohen was saying, wasn't fully accurate, that the knowledge that he was describing in his written statement is far less than what was attributed to him in that "Buzzfeed" account.

That to me makes Cohen's account more credible, because again, if his only motivation, as the president suggests, is to reduce his sentence or to incriminate the president, then you would expect him to make a more full-throated claim against Donald Trump. So I find on the face of it, a credible account, certainly that was the conclusion of the special counsel. But the proof is in the pudding. I'd like to see how he behaves when we question him. I'd like to find what he what corroboration we can find for what he is saying on these and, frankly, many other issues.

CAMEROTA: So now that you have read this, or a portion of it, what is your most burning question for him tomorrow when he is in front of your committee?

SCHIFF: Well, I think what we'll want to do is we'll want to go methodically with him through his prior testimony to determine what was accurate, what wasn't accurate. We'll want to drill down into just what lawyers, what individuals were aware that the statements he was making to Congress were false, whether any other indications that that got back or was blessed in anyway by the president. But we'll want to walk through each of the Russia-related allegations with him in great detail. And again, our goal will be to find the truth, to find corroboration, if it exists, so that we can make a full report to the American people.

CAMEROTA: Congressman, I want to read you something that another congressman, Matt Gaetz from Florida, a Republican, who of course is a very big, arguably biggest President Trump supporter in Congress. Here's what he tweeted to Michael Cohen last night, yesterday afternoon, "Hey, Michael Cohen, do your wife and father-in-law know about your girlfriends? Maybe tonight would be a good time for that chat. I wonder if she'll remain faithful when you're in prison. She's about to learn a lot." How do you categorize that tweet from Matt Gaetz?

SCHIFF: The first thought I had when I read about this, in addition to just being appalled at what looks like a blatant effort to intimidate this witness, is that this is the effect of the Trump presidency, and that is that kind of a sleazy attack on a witness before Congress is something we have come to expect out of the White House. And it affects the whole of government. And so you see members of Congress essentially mirroring their behavior on the president of the United States. And that is I think a terrible effect on this institution. But, indeed, we have seen it on all of our institutions.

CAMEROTA: I think that's an important point to underscore. This is from a member, a sitting member of Congress. He then apologized. Here's what Matt Gaetz wrote, apparently addressing Speaker Nancy Pelosi. "Speaker, I want to get truth, too. While it is important to create context around the testimony of liars like Michael Cohen, it was not my intent to threaten, as some believe I did. I'm deleting the tweet, and I should have chosen words that better showed my intent. I'm sorry." Does that sort of erase the threatening of the witness in your mind?

SCHIFF: It doesn't erase it. And, nonetheless, I am glad he has apologized for it. But the harm has been done, and I hope that this will discourage other members from engaging in that kind of low behavior.

CAMEROTA: And so, Congressman, where are we? Just give us from where you sit, because you have been so steeped in this, where are we today? Does this Michael Cohen -- look, there are so many days that we come on the air, and there is breaking news, and there's some new thread, and there is something that sounds explosive. But these 20 pages are really in a different category of what is about to be revealed under oath to Congress. And so from where you sit, has the needle been moved? How do you assess where the investigations are today?

SCHIFF: Well, the needle has certainly been moved, and it's been moved right into the White House. If Mr. Cohen's allegations are correct it means the president, while in office, literally while in the Oval Office, was engaged in criminal activity, and that is furthering this campaign fraud scheme that the Southern District of New York has already identified individual one as being involved in.

[08:10:17] So, that's pretty breathtaking when you think about it, that the president of the United States is allegedly paying hush money as president of the United States, and misleading the country about it. And that's pretty serious business.

But I will say this, the most complete picture at this point is the one possessed by Robert Mueller, is the one that will be a part of his report. And I think this only underscores how important it is that that report be made public so that we can see Michael Cohen's testimony in the context of other evidence that has been produced to the government. We are in possession of some of that in our committee. But Bob Mueller is in possession of a lot more of it, some of which we can only obtain through his office, because he's conducted search warrants. He's seized physical objects that we are not going to have access to. So it just underscores the need for transparency, and the Justice Department is really going to have to make that information publicly available.

CAMEROTA: We shall see if that is their intention. Congressman Adam Schiff, thank you very much for taking time from a busy morning for NEW DAY. John?

BERMAN: So interesting says that this document, this Michael Cohen prepared testimony moves the needle, and he says moves the needle right into the Oval Office.

CAMEROTA: And that it's breathtaking.

BERMAN: We have much more of our breaking news coverage. Joining us will be New York correspondent Maggie Haberman. She has been there from the very beginning. What does she say about these new revelations? That's next.


[08:15:16] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news: in less than two hours, President Trump's former lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen will testify before Congress. In this stunning transcript by CNN, a prepared testimony, Mr. Cohen is expected to say publicly that the president is, quote, a racist, a conman and a cheat. He will also spell out at least a half dozen new allegations here, or provide color into some allegations we have been hearing for some time.

Joining us is Maggie Haberman. She is White House correspondent for "The New York Times", and a CNN political analyst.

And, Maggie, to an extent you are in the middle of what could be one of the biggest bits of news that Michael Cohen claims here. He says he witnessed a conversation where Roger Stone told President Trump there was about to be a massive dump of e-mail incriminating to Hillary Clinton. I just read very quickly what he said.

In July 2016, days before the Democratic Convention, I was in Mr. Trump's office. When his secretary announced that Roger Stone was on the phone, Mr. Trump put Mr. Stone on the speaker phone. Mr. Stone told Mr. Trump that he had just gotten off the phone with Julian Assange, and Assange told Stone that within a couple of days, there will be a massive dump of e-mails that would damage Clinton's campaign. Trump responded by saying to the effect of, wouldn't that be great.

It just so happens, Maggie, that three weeks ago, you asked the president of the United States whether he had such a conversation. Let's listen to that exchange. .


MAGGIE HABERMAN, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Did you ever talk to him about WikiLeaks? Because that seemed to be what --


HABERMAN: You never had a conversation with him?

TRUMP: No, I didn't. I never did.

HABERMAN: Did you ever tell him to -- or other people to get in touch with them?

TRUMP: Never did.


BRIGGS: It seems to me what Michael Cohen says here and the president told you, both of them can't be true.

HABERMAN: What I think is significant about that moment, remember Roger Stone had also denied such a conversation took place because it had emerged previously. What is significant there is what, A, what I was asking him about was what was in the indictment against Roger Stone and there was an unnamed senior campaign official quote/unquote directed, not by whom, to get in touch with Stone to see what he knew about the material that WikiLeaks had.

And so, while there is this denial from Stone, there is a denial from the president. There is this conversation from Michael Cohen, that could be. We don't know what the Mueller folks are referencing in that indictment. And to me that is the significance of this.

Remember, a lot of this in Michael Cohen's testimony is still, you know, one person's word against another and another. There is often just three people in these rooms. But I think that this is why it's so important that people focus on the corroboration aspect of what Cohen says. I think that's what Cohen is going to point to himself in this testimony.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Maggie, I'm just wondering his tone in that moment, if that struck you, because he was so sedate, no, no it's so different than when he generally sort of full-throatedly denies something. I mean, I'm just wondering if it struck you at that moment? HABERMAN: I mean, it struck me as something he didn't want a long

prolonged conversation about. I don't know the tone belies something different of what he said.

You know, I think time is possibly going to reveal more on this. Again, it is hard to assess what is taking place in terms of veracity between three people in one room. This is why what Mueller is willing to put in the indictment becomes so significant.

BERMAN: It's easier to assess the veracity of something like the Stormy Daniels saga at this point.

HABERMAN: Correct, that's right.

BERMAN: Because the president said things about that which federal prosecutors and investigators now say are provably false. And today, Michael Cohen will testify that Donald Trump directed him to make the payments to Stormy Daniels to keep her quiet about an alleged affair, he will produce a check, you know, this check that he says the president signed to him in his own handwriting, while he was president of the United States, August 1st, 2017.

This is the type of corroboration, Maggie, you were just talking about you think will be so important today.

HABERMAN: Right. Look, taken in its totality, the mere fact of this testimony is stunning. The many of the granular details are things we have known or at least have been told by other people about this president so far.

But what is stunning is that it is all in one place and attached to someone's name in a setting where there is penalty of perjury. To your point about those checks, that goes to a different level than really almost anything else in the testimony that we have read, because that speaks to a cover up, that speaks to an effort to conceal something.

My sources tell me there was no retainer agreement between Michael Cohen and the Trump Organization or the president, despite the fact that hit had been described by people around the president. And you have these checks that were signed while the president was in office.

Recall again the president said he didn't know about these payments made to Stormy Daniels. Those checks would suggest otherwise.

CAMEROTA: Maggie, there's all sorts of color in these 20 pages from Michael Cohen that we haven't gotten to, because there are so many blockbuster headlines.

[08:20:05] But because you know this operation so well, I do want to get to some of these things that are I guess are of lesser import legally, but still really interesting.

Here is what he plans to -- what Michael Cohen plans to tell lawmakers about the president's son. Mr. Trump had frequently told ad others that his son, Don Jr. had the worst judgment of anyone in the world and also that Don Jr. would never set up a meeting of any significance alone, and certainly not without checking with his father.

This is in tandem with Michael Cohen saying that he was in with President Trump in his office when Don Jr. came in, went around -- behind the desk, which was unusual and whispered audibly in a stage whisper to his father, the meeting is set up, this was about the Trump Tower meeting with Russians and apparently upgrade to Michael Cohen, Donald Trump said something like, good, good, let me know.

HABERMAN: So, I think it's an important asterisk in what you just said. Michael Cohen is not -- based on a statement going to say and I heard it was about the Russia meeting. He is going to say that in retrospect, he thinks that a scene that he observed at some point, that he believes was around that time could have been about that and likely in his words was about that, but he is not saying that he heard about it. I do think that it's important.

I think this is a point that you're going to see Republicans drill down on, you know, Michael Cohen and Donald Trump Jr. were at one point pretty close. And I think that Michael Cohen and allies of Michael Cohen feel like he has been betrayed by the president and his family. I think you will see a fair amount of that in there.

I think of everything that you see? What he says, that is the piece that is going to be I think the hardest for him to stand up.

BERMAN: Yes. Look, he does, though, go out of his way to elbow Donald Trump Jr. there.


BERMAN: Which he didn't have to do. I don't think that necessarily lends anything to his legal argument there. So, it is interesting that he close to do that.

HABERMAN: Absolutely, absolutely. And to the point about him feeling that he has been sort of thrown under the bus.

BERMAN: Yes. And, again, the president isn't being investigated for being an alleged racist. But Michael Cohen goes out of his way to call the president a racist in his prepared testimony. He tells various stories. Let me just read you one quote here.

Michael Cohen claims he, the president, once asked me if I can mention a company run by a black person that wasn't a shit hole. This was when Barack Obama was president of the United States.

HABERMAN: Right. I think that -- and I think that you see Michael Cohen prepare to address this in a testimony where he's going to say, and yet I continued to work for him, clearly recognizing in those statements that this is deeply troubling if somebody said something like that.

You know, think that, remember the time when Barack Obama was president of the United States, President Trump was also questioning when he was a legitimate question based on birthplace and suggesting he actually might be African. So, you know, I think this is not surprising what you are hearing Michael Cohen say. He had a conversation on the record with Emily Jane Fox in "Vanity Fair" about that very conversation several months ago.

I think you are going to see again where a lot of this is stuff that has been said about the president before, Michael Cohen is prepared to fill out a lot of it. He is prepared to say things that are going to, you know, just sort of fill in the other side of the page about Donald Trump on things that other people will feel sounds familiar to them or they think they have seen in this presidency.

I think the fact it is taking place under oath in his own name is why it's going to be so powerful.

CAMEROTA: And suggest, as a final though, do you think that if the volume of what we will be hearing. All one stop shopping in one place that is what moves the needle today?

HABERMAN: So, I don't know it will move the needle to be clear. In the mind of folks around the president, their feeling is, there isn't really, there is not, or their argument is, there is not that much new here. This is not really -- this doesn't say a whole lot new. I think they are searching for the silver lining.

The mere fact that this is taking place is extraordinary. The mere fact you have a former personal lawyer to a sitting president testifying in this kind of setting about these kinds of details is going to be remarkable.

BERMAN: I've got to say, Maggie, very quickly, the Michael Cohen I dealt with in 2011, 2010, 2012, when Donald Trump was flirting with the presidency, I can't imagine him ever saying what he said here. I can't look back and think this would ever happen.

HABERMAN: True. I have known Michael Cohen for a very long time, going back to before he worked for President Trump before he ran for office in New York City at one point. He did have a life prior to Donald Trump. He clearly is hoping to have one after. But what he's going to describe in his testimony is this cult-like setting that that he will I think suggest he got sucked into.

CAMEROTA: Maggie Haberman, it is going to be fascinating. Thank you for previewing it with us.

Michael Cohen, everyone remembers, once said he would take a bullet for Donald Trump. Now, in this 20-page statement that we've been reading to this morning, Cohen says President Trump is, quote, a racist and a con man and a cheat. How did we get to this point?


[08:28:54] CAMEROTA: Michael Cohen will appear before the House Oversight Committee in just over an hour from now and CNN has obtained a copy. John has it in his hands, of his prepared public testimony. He submitted it late last night. If you are just waking up, this is a blockbuster. It is damming. We will read you portions of what he will say under oath to Congress. Joining us now, our Jeffrey Toobin, CNN chief legal analyst, Gloria

Borger, CNN's chief political analyst, and Joe Lockhart, he was the White House press secretary for President Clinton.

Gloria, great to have with you us this hour.

Please give us your thoughts on what you see in these 20 pages of prepared testimony.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I -- it's stunning testimony. And it gives you a general sense of where Donald Trump was coming from during the campaign and also on Jeffrey's the lawyer here. I think on the legal side, it provides a bunch of problems for the president of the United States.

On the bigger picture, the way Mr. Cohen describes Donald Trump and his attitude towards the campaign was as an infomercial, a great marketing attempt. They never thought they were going to win this election. The president as a candidate was using this to market his brand and use the word infomercial to Michael Cohen.