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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER
White House Attacks James Comey; Trump's Personal Attorney Under Criminal Investigation. Aired 4-4:30p ET
Aired April 13, 2018 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.
We begin with breaking news on this Friday the 13th. At the same time President Trump is beating charges back from fired FBI Director James Comey's devastating tell-all book, the Justice Department disclosed this afternoon that the president's personal attorney, Michael Cohen, is under criminal investigation.
This was revealed in court in response to Cohen's motion to restrain the evidence collected in Monday's raids on his residence, hotel room, office, safety deposit boxes and electronic devices. The Cohen hearing is due to resume any minute.
Earlier today, the government asserted that any communications between President Trump and Cohen concerning the payment to adult film actress Stormy Daniels, that those conversations are not covered by attorney- client privilege.
The government cited President Trump's own words said on Air Force One on April 5, in which President Trump claimed to know absolutely nothing about the payment.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
QUESTION: Did you know about the $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels?
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No.
QUESTION: Then why did Michael...
TRUMP: What else?
QUESTION: Then why did Michael Cohen make it, if there is no truth to the allegations?
TRUMP: You will have to ask Michael Cohen. Mike's my attorney, and you will have to ask him.
QUESTION: And do you know where he got the money to make that payment? TRUMP: No, I don't know.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: Let's go right to CNN's Shimon Prokupecz in New York.
Shimon, we're hearing that Michael Cohen is not cooperating. What are prosecutors saying?
SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, that is right, Jake.
None of what the prosecutors here today are saying is any good for the president, certainly not good for his personal attorney, Michael Cohen.
And what they have revealed is that he is investigation, under criminal investigation. And they have basically been investigating him for quite some time, it appears, including conducting covert surveillance on him, where they were able to obtain some e-mails that showed he had basically not been doing any kind of legal work.
They also explained the reason perhaps as to why they needed to go in so aggressively, with a search warrant, was because they were concerned he was going to destroy evidence, that evidence was going to be destroyed that they would not be able to otherwise have access to.
So that is why they went in the way they went in. We have also learned here in court that the defense here, his attorneys, Michael Cohen's attorneys, the judge has asked them to provide a list of who his other clients are. And so far, so far, they have not been able to do so.
And that is why we're supposed to be back in court now, because a judge is basically asking Michael Cohen, who are your other clients besides the president? And so far, the attorneys have not been able to answer that.
TAPPER: All right, Shimon Prokupecz, thank you so much.
Let's bring in my panel.
And, first of all, let's just get quick reactions off the bat. Michael Cohen under criminal investigation, an acknowledgment from the Justice Department. Your response.
PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Quick response.
Look, the president has been making this about one spire. That's Robert Mueller. And as we move along and we see a series of indictments in two separate investigations, indictments of Flynn, indictments of Papadopoulos, Paul Manafort, of Gates, some of whom are cooperating, the number of interviewees who are giving the Mueller team a picture, the number of e-mails -- in this case, we're hearing that Michael Cohen has voice-mails evidently he recorded -- over time, it is not going to be the spite of Robert Mueller. When this goes public, there is going to be a spider web of
information about people associated with the president who are speaking themselves. I think that is what the American people will see eventually.
TAPPER: And, Laura, we know he's under a criminal investigation, Michael Cohen. The filing redacts what crimes he's being investigated for.
Based on your experience as a prosecutor and what we know, what do you think? You think it could simply be a federal election law?
LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: No.
I think it is far more than that. And, first of all, we're far past the arguments we made just a week-and-a-half ago of target vs. subject, the semantics-based arguments.
Now you see what it looks like when you're in a full-throated investigation and you actually have a target. And the idea here of the redactions, they are not wanting to tip their hand to the rest of the public.
There are probably people out there who we don't yet know are going to be witnesses, maybe cooperating in testimony, may actually be subjects or targets even in this case and they're not going to show their hands. Much like they did in the George -- van der Zwaan sentencing hearing, when they redacted a great deal of information to say, we're not going to show everything here.
And the court is allowing them to do so, which gives further credence to the idea that this is an independent judge who is assessing this case, not perhaps as a witch-hunt, but as saying there is far more to this issue than certainly a campaign finance violation.
TAPPER: And, Phil, we know the search warrants covered his e-mails, hotel, his office, his safety deputy boxes, electronic devices.
We also know that Cohen recorded conversations. What are you looking to drop next in terms of information about this investigation?
MUDD: Who else is going to be implicated in this who is associated with Cohen and is concerned about being involved in a criminal investigation and starts to talk.
They're saying that Cohen isn't cooperating now. Let's see what happens here. When he sees the extent of the criminal charges, he may step back say, I have got a family. The president just put me in front of a truck, I'm going to start talking.
I'm interested in seeing who else is implicated and whether they start talking.
TAPPER: And Cohen is not cooperating, as Shimon reported. The government did the raid, they say, because they are concerned he was going to delete his records.
What does that say to you?
COATES: That says to me that they do not trust that he has ever been forthcoming or that he would have been in the future, and that there was an urgent need for them to execute it in this way.
A no-knock announcement warrant was going to be one thing, which happened in of course the Manafort case. This is telling me that of all the electronic data, of all the different telephones people have been referencing and computers, et cetera, that this is somebody who never had any intention of cooperating.
And a judge believed that. And, remember, the most important thing to think of here is, everybody is talking about attorney-client. They need to have proof that he was actually his attorney in all respects. And so if that was never the case, if the court never had to respect the attorney-client privilege, the idea of having an urgent need to go in before anything was destroyed becomes all the more paramount.
TAPPER: And, Phil, just to that point, the filing says -- quote -- "Cohen is in fact performing little to no legal work" and that zero e- mails were exchanged with President Trump.
If they are trying to make the argument, the legal argument that Cohen is not his lawyer, Cohen is his fixer, does that mean that the attorney-client privilege won't hold anymore?
MUDD: Well, that's not the only problem here.
As you have seen over the past hour or two, people are talking about the fact -- and I think it is in the filing -- that the president came out, as you saw, on Air Force One and said, hey, I don't know anything about this payment.
How can it be -- how can there be a relationship with your client, in this case Donald Trump, about a payment, when the president said he didn't know about the payment? So, one, you have somebody who is not doing legal work. Two, you have somebody who is apparently not communicating with the president about the case.
How can you claim privileged conversations, when there weren't any conversations and they weren't legal in nature?
TAPPER: What they are communicating about, actually -- let me bring in some breaking news just in this second.
"The New York Times" reporting that President Trump called Michael Cohen today to check in. And we just learned that from "The New York Times." So there has been at least some communication if President Trump called Michael Cohen.
You don't think, do I take it, Laura, that attorney-client privilege applies here?
COATES: It never applied to every single communication. I'm an attorney. You and I are talking. It is not about legal advice. We don't have a privilege that shields our entire thing being disclosed to everyone else.
You actually have to have an attorney-client relationship, meaning, when we communicate, it is exclusively between you and I as attorney- client, the subject matter is in furtherance of legal advice, not business, not Ray Donovan-esque fixing, not discussions about taxi medallions or whatever they talked about that. It has to be that.
But an interesting thing here, Jake, is that the contract claim that is before Michael Avenatti and Stormy Daniels about whether he knew about it or not would not be as impacted by the discussion of the president on Air Force One saying, I didn't know anything about it.
They could still have a claim about third-party beneficiary relationships. But it is key here in the New York investigation information as to whether all this information can be categorically called privileged. And that was never going to be the case.
TAPPER: Does the fact that the president talked to Michael Cohen today, called Michael Cohen today, does that complicate this at all?
COATES: It is very nice of him and special to check in. Maybe he gave him a snack at some point later on.
But it doesn't change or help his case to say that we actually have a attorney-client relationship. You have to go back in time to retroactively say, I want to have us have this conversation.
And, remember, a lot has been made about the audio recordings. Well, if there was an audio recording, which in New York you can do by the one-party consent. One of us had to agree to have it recorded, other one didn't have to know.
But remember those conversations as well had to be privileged for him to say it has to be protected. And if somebody else is involved, none of it passes muster.
TAPPER: And it does matter if Michael Cohen is or was his attorney.
The White House was asked this question today just a few minutes ago. Take a listen to White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders on the very basic question, is Michael Cohen still President Trump's attorney?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I know that the president has worked with him as a personal attorney. Beyond that, I don't have anything else to add about...
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: How could there not be an answer to that question? That seems pretty basic. MUDD: Let me answer it for you. Let me play Sarah Sanders.
How can you remain the personal lawyer for the president of the United States when you are under a criminal investigation that involves the president of the United States?
Laura can answer it better than I, but I cannot imagine over the course of the next few days somebody is going to answer the question at the White House and say, yes, this guy still represents us in a case where he is actually under criminal investigation.
How do you have a privileged conversation with him?
COATES: You know how else you can't know that?
Because Trump's lawyer walked into the courtroom today, and it wasn't Michael Cohen when he actually argued on behalf of the privilege that belonged to the United States and why he didn't want any information disclosed.
If you didn't have a further indication of then who was taking sides, who was the attorney, Michael Cohen wasn't the one saying, I'm the president's lawyer.
TAPPER: How much do you think that this is -- this case is being run by the Southern District of New York, the U.S. attorney's office there, not by Robert Mueller and the Russia investigation.
But how much do you think that this might be rooted in, in addition to whatever crimes they think that Michael Cohen may have committed, trying to get him to flip as part of this larger Mueller investigation?
MUDD: I think zero.
TAPPER: Zero? You don't think it has anything to do with it?
MUDD: I do not.
I think there is one issue that might come up and that is money, whether money that the investigators find in this case that relates to what Mueller finds. There will be what is called a taint team, a clean team that looks at the information for Cohen to weed out stuff that is not relevant to the case.
They hand it over to separate investigators. If those investigators for New York see something relevant to Mueller, they push it back. But I Mueller. What he said was, this isn't relevant to my case, to Russia, et cetera. Hand it over to the Department of Justice. They said, this is interesting. Get New York to investigate.
I don't think this is related to some sort of weird Hollywood sort of conspiracy that says we want Cohen to flip. TAPPER: At yet, the same time, Cohen has as his client, as far as we
know, only one client, Donald Trump. So if he committed crimes in the service of his client, there are going to be at least questions for the president from the Southern District of New York.
COATES: Of course.
Ethically speaking, you are going to have questions about to what extent Michael Cohen involved or implicated or attempted to implicate the president. He's taking a 10-foot-pole approach, Michael Cohen, as you saw on Air Force One, to say, I don't know what he does and he's kind of doing his own thing, I don't want to be asked about it, ask Michael Cohen.
And when the courts then asks Michael Cohen, it is interesting to see what he says. But on your point, Phil, about the idea of it being totally separate, I'm not so sure I can have that certainty.
What I do see is that any attempt to get Michael Cohen, based on his conversations, to cooperate or flip, would be an exercise in futility, given his allegiances and his discussions.
Also, remember what happened today with Scooter Libby. We already know the president has pardoning powers. If they're talking on the phone today, maybe that pillow talk involved the future as well.
TAPPER: Some people wondering and speculating today if the president's pardon of Scooter Libby -- and we will get into that later in the show -- but if that was a signal of any sort to people, hey, I'm willing to use my pardon power.
MUDD: Oh, heck yes.
There are two pieces going on in parallel. Number one, undermine the investigation itself, so if there are ever indictments, you say, I told all along it is a witch-hunt. If those indictments move along, the second shoe dropped today. Hey, if you are accused of lying in what I view as the president as a false investigation, I will pardon you.
I think the two go together.
TAPPER: All right, everyone, stick around.
We have a lot more to talk about, more breaking news.
The White House just responded to former FBI Director James Comey's bombshell tell-all book. You thought calling Comey a slimeball was bad, wait until you hear the names that were just used at the White House podium.
Stay with us.
[16:16:44] TAPPER: And we're back with even more breaking news. President Trump on a Twitter tirade moments ago slamming Andrew McCabe, the recently fired FBI deputy director.
Quote: The Department of Justice just issued the McCabe report which is a total disaster. He lied, lied, lied, all caps. McCabe was totally controlled by Comey. McCabe is Comey, no collusion, all made up by this den of thieves and low lives, unquote.
That is an actual quote by the president, an actual tweet. That is word for word. I didn't make that up.
And right before that, the White House went all in attacking McCabe's former boss, fired FBI Director James Comey, and his new bombshell book.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: One of president's greatest achievements will go down as firing Director James Comey.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: Interestingly enough, Steve Bannon called it one of the biggest political mistakes in modern history.
Let's bring in CNN's Pamela Brown at the White House.
And, Pamela, the president clearly setting the tone this morning, calling Comey, a, quote, leaker and a liar. He called him an untruthful slime ball, again that's a quote.
The White House is not letting up on this character attack against Comey.
PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely not. And after staying quiet last night, Jake, today the White House has launched a full-throated attack on fired FBI Director James Comey as explosive passages from his forthcoming tell-all book hit the media. The president as you pointed out lashed out on Twitter this morning, calling him a proven liar and a leaker, saying that he leaked classified information. The president there referring to the four memos that Comey told Congress he gave to a friend about his interactions with the president, that was then passed on to "New York Times" reporter and Comey has maintained there was no classified information.
But today at the press briefing, Press Secretary Sarah Sanders came out really doubling down on the criticism of Comey, echoing what we heard from the president. Here is what she said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SANDERS: The American people see right through the blatant lies of a self admitted leaker. This is nothing more than a poorly executed P.R. stunt by Comey to rehabilitate his tattered reputation and enrich his bank account by a peddling a book that belongs in the bargain bin of the fiction section, instead of being remembered as a dedicated servant in the pursuit of justice like so many of his other colleagues at the FBI. Comey will be forever known as a disgraced partisan hack that broke his sacred trust with the president of the United States.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BROWN: And when asked if Trump was concerned about what is in the book, she said not at all. But based on the president's tweets this morning, it is clearly top of mind for him -- Jake.
TAPPER: It looks like President Trump is going to produce another bestseller. Comey's publisher is banking on his book, "A Higher Loyalty" being a bestseller. It's printing 850,000 copies to meet pre-order demands. In contrast, Michael Wolff's book "Fire and Fury" had an initial run of only 150,000 copies despite selling quite well.
Comey describing jaw-dropping encounters with the president.
CNN's Sara Murray now joins me.
And, Sara, Comey is getting -- giving his critics fodder for pushback.
SARA MURRAY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's right. And, look, this is a book that is packed with substantive criticism and also some pettier swipes at the president, including over his appearance and as Comey is preparing to tell all, you could see the White House is casting the former FBI director as little more than a disgruntled employee.
JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: I started to tell him about the allegation was that he had been involved with prostitutes in a hotel in Moscow in 2013 during a visit for the Miss Universe pageant and the Russians had filmed the episode and he interrupted very defensively and started talking about it -- do I look like a guy who needs hookers?
MURRAY (voice-over): Ousted FBI Director James Comey assailing President Donald Trump's leadership style, as he describes a newly elected world leader more preoccupied with the salacious allegations against him than a hostile foreign government meddling in America's election. When President-elect Trump was briefed by intelligence chiefs on Russia's election interference in January 2017, Comey says this was Trump's top concern.
COMEY: President-elect Trump's first question was, to confirm that it had no impact on the election and then the conversation, to my surprise, moved into a P.R. conversation. No one to my recollection asked, so, what -- what's coming next from the Russians? How might we stop it?
MURRAY: Comey's comments come as he kicks off a TV blitz to promote his new book, "A Higher Loyalty", which casts Trump as an unethical narcissist who runs the White House like a mafia boss.
The president unleashing on the FBI director he fired in May 2017, tweeting: James Comey is a proven leaker and liar. He leaked classified information for which he should be prosecuted. He lied to Congress under oath. He is a weak and untruthful slime ball who was, as time has proven, a terrible director of the FBI.
Trump adding: It was my great honor to fire James Comey.
By Comey's telling, Trump couldn't get over the unsubstantiated claims in the now infamous dossier, mainly that he invited Russian prostitutes to his Moscow suit and watched them to pee on one other.
COMEY: He says he may want me to investigate it, to prove that it didn't happen, and then he says, something that distracted me because he said, you know, if there's even a 1 percent chance my wife thinks that's true, that's terrible.
And I -- and I remember thinking, how could your wife think there is a 1 percent chance you were with prostitutes peeing on each other in Moscow. Honestly, I never thought these words would come out of my mouth, but I don't know whether the current president of the United States is with prostitutes peeing on each other in Moscow in 2013. It's possible, but I don't know.
MURRAY: Now, Comey has proven to be a divisive figure among Democrats as well as Republicans, and this is just the beginning of this publicity tour -- Jake.
TAPPER: Yes, the book hasn't even dropped yet.
Sara Murray, thank you so much. My political panel is here with me.
Kirsten, so let me start with you. Just underscore this -- the former FBI director says, quote, I don't know whether the current president of the United States was with prostitutes, et cetera, et cetera. That claim alone from a former FBI director for any other president at any other time would be devastating and --
KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: It's not.
TAPPER: And yet here we are.
POWERS: Yes. Well, I think this -- the conversation is moved into places that we never thought it would go. So many different times, I've actually sat on the set with you and so many things have happened. I think I was here when the "Access Hollywood" tape broke, in fact, so the things that were said in that tweet weren't the type of things that I thought I'd be discussing on television --
TAPPER: Sexual assault.
POWERS: -- or with anybody frankly.
POWERS: Well grabbing them by the P and so forth. TAPPER: Yes.
POWERS: But I think that should just -- on a substantive point mean something because we could assume it was looked into and they made some sort of judgment about this dossier and a lot of people have sort of said, this doesn't -- you know, this is completely illegitimate when in fact Comey is not going to say it is illegitimate, even the most salacious claims in the dossier.
TAPPER: What do you think, Kristen, just as a matter of Comey deciding what to include in this book and what to talk about, what do you think about his decisions to really just say everything he feels, everything he thinks, talk about -- you know, we broke this story of the existence of the dossier, that the President Trump had been briefed and we did not mention the contents of the dossier, CNN.
But there is the FBI director talking about prostitutes peeing on each other in Moscow.
KRISTEN SOLTIS ANDERSON, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST AND POLLSTER: Well, and what I think is kind of irresponsible about what he's doing in that interview is there is not evidence that that occurred. And instead of saying there is no evidence that occurred, it's the sly, well, I don't know if it's true.
And I think what Comey had an opportunity to do with this book was tell the world and persuade people who might not know how they feel about this and think the swamp seems like it's pretty swampy and it doesn't like Donald Trump, to persuade them that there are really problems here and that there are important norms about law and justice that are being eroded, or you can write a book that's kind of salacious and that sells a ton of copies, and provoke the president so that he tweets and helps he sell another 100,000 copies, but I don't think actually makes the case that Jim Comey is a man of integrity.
[16:25:10] And I think that's disappointing, because I think people who worked with Jim Comey, people on the Hill, will frequently say, this is a good man and yet I think there are things in this book that as were described as petty that I think undercut that.
TAPPER: Robby, I want to get your reaction to Comey trying to explain why he went public about reopening the Hillary Clinton investigation 10 or 11 days before the election, writing, quote, it is entirely possible because I was making decisions in an environment where Hillary Clinton was sure to be the next president, my concern about making her an illegitimate president by concealing the restarted investigation bore greater weight than it would have if the election appeared closer or if Donald Trump were ahead in the polls, but I don't know.
He's basically saying that he did what he did because he thought she was going to win and he didn't want to be accused later on of hiding anything to protect the next president.
ROBBY MOOK, FORMER CAMPAIGN MANAGER, HILLARY FOR AMERICA: Yes. Well, first of all, this is really complicated, OK? So I don't think James Comey is lying in this book. I think he's
saying important things that we need to pay attention to about President Trump. So I want to acknowledge that it is important and I'm glad he's coming forward with the truth.
But, however, he writes a lot about leadership. And I think good leaders admit when they made a mistake, and a lot of mistakes were made in this election because people thought Hillary Clinton was going to win.
I made decisions at times because I thought she was going to win, other people made decisions, and this is an example where he made a mistake. The justice system should not be changing the way it behaves or making choices about what it does based on "The New York Times" election needle and that's what he did. I mean, I'm glad he's admitting that in this book, but I hope -- actually to your point, I hope he uses this book tour to help us learn from what happened and do better in the future. I hope he doesn't just use this book tour to talk about the things we're just talking about.
TAPPER: Everyone, stick around. We've got a lot more to talk about, about this book and more. The breaking news from the White House that could be a message to Paul Manafort and Michael Flynn and Michael Cohen.
Stay with us.