Return to Transcripts main page


Court Fight over Seized Information in Raid; Comey's Tell-All Book; Aggressive Syria Response. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired April 13, 2018 - 12:00   ET



[12:00:12] JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. Thank you for sharing this very busy Friday with us.

U.S. officials say they have firm evidence it was a chemical weapons attack in Syria, and the administration bluntly calls out Russia for lies and cover-ups, saying it is protecting the Assad regime.

Plus, the president's personal lawyer asks a federal judge to toss out a warrant the feds used earlier this week to seize evidence that could include audio recordings about that attorney's efforts to protect the boss.

In James Comey's book he calls the president an unethical liar, and worse. It triggers a volcanic Trump tweet and a full-scale assault from the president's allies.


KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO THE PRESIDENT: This is President Donald Trump. And as Jim Comey found out, the president makes his own decisions. And he has a right to.


CONWAY: And nobody should get ahead of that or in the way of that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK. Good enough. Kellyanne --

CONWAY: Remember, people who write books are not under oath. Don't forget it while you read these excerpts, folks.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We -- we remember. All right, Kellyanne, thank you very much.

CONWAY: James Comey (ph) was fired.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you, Kellyanne.


KING: Back to that in a moment.

We begin with big questions of truth and justice. Some playing out in the court of public opinion, some in the court of law.

Let's begin in the court of law. A very important hearing today in federal court in New York. Michael Cohen, the president's long-time personal attorney, his personal fixer, challenging that warrant served on him earlier this week seizing documents, bank records, computers, even his phone from his law offices and from a hotel where he is staying.

Shimon Prokupecz, our crime and justice reporter, just out of that hearing up in New York.

Shimon, what happened?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Quite a lot has happened here, John. You know, we all came here expecting to hear arguments from Mr. Cohen's attorneys as to why the government perhaps should not have some access to these documents, citing privilege. And then, during the proceedings, we learned that the president's attorneys -- he's apparently hired some new attorneys here in New York City who are now representing him in this matter, a -- she came in and she argued -- or started to argue anyhow, that his privilege, the president's privilege, could potentially be violated. It is his privilege. Michael Cohen with his attorney, and, therefore, the president, Donald Trump, is the only one who could waive privilege in this case, and, therefore, they needed to be heard as to why the government should not have access to some of this information.

And then the judge proceeded to basically say that she was going to adjourn, some of this to Monday. But also we're going to hear further arguments this afternoon and some more information regarding maybe what was -- what is concerning this investigation, some other information the government may have.

And then, Stormy Daniels' attorney, Michael Avenatti, who also showed up in court here, also wants to argue before the court as to some privacy issues concerning his client. And so he's asked the judge to be heard this afternoon. And we're going to hear from him around 2:00 or so.

KING: And, Shimon, as all this drama plays out, new attorneys from -- representing the president step in. Any sense in any court filings, anything made public yet, either documents or in the testimony to the judge, the arguments to the judge, about exactly what was seized? More evidence, more details, if you will, of what was seized?

PROKUPECZ: No, and that's what we're waiting for. We're told by the judge, we're told by the prosecutors who are in court, these are public corruption prosecutors. They said that they -- that they filed this 22-page brief. They do expect it to be made public, at least portions of it made public sometime today. They said about four or five sentences and these documents are probably going to be redacted. But they expect to release a lot of this information sometime today, and hopefully we can get some indications, maybe, maybe, of just what this investigation is about.

I also want to note, you had the senior members of the U.S. attorney's office here of the southern district, the public corruption prosecutors in the court, and also FBI agents. One of the lead FBI agents, who is a public corruption agent, he's a supervisor on the public corruption squad, he was also in court. Certainly this is being treated very seriously, obviously. But the number of U.S. attorneys and some of the senior-level FBI agents that were in court was pretty interesting as well.

KING: Shimon Prokupecz outside the courtroom. Shimon, come back if any more developments as this hearing and these arguments play out.

To our reporter panel in a minute.

But, first, let's get some legal perspective. Solomon Wisenberg joins us now from Raleigh, North Carolina. Sol is a former federal prosecutor, as well as worked on the Ken Starr investigation, in private practice now.

Sol, I'm asking you some questions you can't answer because this is still ongoing in court. But what does it tell you that you have Michael Cohen and his attorneys challenging the warrant, but then a new set of attorneys comes in saying they represent the president of the United States. Not Michael Cohen, but Donald Trump, saying they want to be heard on this?

[12:04:58] SOLOMON WISENBERG, FORMER WHITEWATER DEPUTY INDEPENDENT COUNSEL: It doesn't surprise me at all. It's totally appropriate. You have Michael Cohen, who's evidently under investigation. He has many clients, not just the president. He has every reason to be concerned about what appears to be a very broad, extraordinary seizure involved here. But the president is one of his clients, and he has the right to come in and protect his privilege.

And your reporter mentioned a very interesting point. It's the client's privilege to waive. And I don't know about these recordings that have been reported that Michael Cohen recorded people. But if he -- if he recorded information that he shouldn't have recorded without the permission of one of his clients and it's privileged information, then the president's attorneys are accurate. It's for the -- it's for the client to waive the attorney-client privilege.

KING: And so take me through how you believe this will work. Normally the FBI or the Justice Department names a separate team that looks at the material and then makes the determination, is this privileged or is this not privileged, and then the not privileged materials get handed over to the prosecutors and the team in the case in hand. In this case, it would not be privileged, am I right, if -- I hate to use the words, the president of the United States, if any client was talking with his attorney about the furtherance of a crime, that's not privileged, right? If he's asking for legal advice, that is privileged. So how will this play out?

WISENBERG: Well, that's a -- that's a separate issue. In addition to the clean and dirty issue, you have an issue of the crime fraud exception, which is if you use your attorney with or without his knowledge, if part of your use of his services is to commit a crime. There the government typically only has to make a prima facie showing of crime fraud to be able to look at the documents.

But, typically, John, those are done by subpoena. The standard way is for the Department of Justice to subpoena documents. And then if somebody has a privilege issue, to come into the judge and make a motion to quash and say they can't do this. And then the department will argue crime fraud exception. There will be a sealed hearing. The judge will look at some of that stuff in camera, which means secretly, and a decision will be made.

Here, what complicates it immensely and makes me wonder why the search was necessary is, they're already in there looking at the documents. I find that as a white-collar defense attorney very, very troubling. I know everybody, you know, now it's pro-prosecution and pro-FBI who wants to see the president in trouble, but this is a -- this is a search that should concern all of us. And my view is, unless they have pretty rock solid evidence that Cohen was in the midst of destroying documents, it would have been much wiser to go by subpoena. That's the normal route.

KING: That's an excellent point made by Sol Wisenberg.

Sol, appreciate you joining us today. And we'll bring you back when we find out the answer just to that question. We'll see if we get more in court today. We'll see if they're back in court on Monday.

Sol, appreciate your insights.

With me in studio here to share their reporting and further insights, Margaret Talev of "Bloomberg," CNN's Manu Raju, Olivier Knox from Sirius XM Radio, and CNN's Sara Murray.

It is -- we don't know what's going to play out in this court, but just the fact that the president's personal attorney is fighting a warrant, and Sol makes a key point, some of that probably has to do with his representation of Donald Trump. Some of it may have to do with other clients. We know there was something about his separate taxi business and bank records.

But then attorney show up saying, your honor, I've been hired just recently to represent the president of the United States. So another legal front, if you will, for the president, who has attorneys here in Washington, now attorneys in New York fighting this.

We talk often about the big investigation here in Washington, but where this ends up, whether this warrant is ruled valid or invalid, is a giant question at the moment.

MARGARET TALEV, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, "BLOOMBERG": Well, that's right. And from a political perspective, if you're an American citizen watching this, trying to understand what it means, it's creating tremendous emotional pressure and (INAUDIBLE) in a president at a time when there is a lot of other stuff going on from Syria to North Korea, and coming at the same time as the release of Jim Comey's book and this blockbuster interview that's going to air over the weekend. It just -- standing a few feet from the White House and watching it unfold, it -- you just get a real sense of how many plates are spinning at the same time and how nerve-wracking it is for this president.

KING: And how the interests separate. Because Michael Cohen has every right to worry about himself. I know his career has been worrying about Donald Trump. Now he has to worry about himself, which is why the president had his own set of lawyers in there, too, to worry about the president.

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Right, because it also effectively means that Donald Trump's worst nightmare is coming true, which is, this is not an investigation that's being overseen by Bob Mueller. This is not the investigation into whether there was Russian collusion or not. This is now an investigation involving his personal attorney of decades and essentially the Trump businesses as well. I mean he used this person to help him decide whether they wanted to do foreign deals, to do outreach, essentially a fixer for him. So now we're digging into the president's personal activities and to the president's business activities in terms of the feds going after Michael Cohen. And that is the thing that Donald Trump was worried about from day one when the special counsel was named.

[12:10:08] KING: Right. And you've heard Sol understandably kind of roll his eyes and then verbally say some things about the idea that Michael Cohen may have recorded some of these conversations. Donald Trump always says that he records conversations. We've actually never seen any evidence of that, but he has told people over the years, in his business career and in politics, I record conversations.

But this is in "The Washington Post" today and it just makes you raise eyebrows. This is quoting a Trump adviser, not on the record. We heard he had some proclivity to make tapes. Now we are wondering, who did he tape? Did he store these somewhere where they were actually seized? Did they find his recordings?

You can't make this stuff up. I mean, I'm sorry, but --

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I think this is probably what's concerned the president the most. There's a lot more that's eventually going to come out in this proceeding. And it was interesting that Cohen to take this to court because there's a 22- page government filing that we have not seen the details of that yet. The government wants to redact some -- four sentences on this new filing from today. So what exactly are -- is -- was -- has the government found or why do they think that they needed to have to actually go into Michael Cohen's properties and raid and gather evidence? No wonder -- no question the president's concerned, which is why he hired a new attorney to deal with this.

KING: And --

MURRAY: And I would just add that our own CNN reporting is that there is actually evidence that Michael Cohen had these tapes, because unlike the president who claimed he had them, Michael Cohen has actually played tapes of his conversations with the president, then, you know, candidate Trump and his associates, for other people. So he's sort of flashed the tapes around in a way that proves that they existed at least in some cases. KING: And to make it even more complicated, you heard Shimon Prokupecz

mention that Stormy Daniels' attorney is jumping into this as well, saying if he recorded anything about her, her privacy is at stake.

So, everybody, strap in. Shimon's back in the hearing. If we get more information, we'll bring it to you.

A quick break.

When we come back, the story we thought we'd begin with, James Comey versus Donald Trump. It's not pretty.


[12:16:10] KING: Welcome back.

If we get any more details of the hearing still underway in the court in New York, we'll bring them to you.

Now, though, to the court of public opinion. And, in this case, you're the jury, whether you like it or not.

The president lashing out today at the former FBI director, James Comey, you see the tweets, calling him a proven leaker and liar, weak, untruthful slime ball and a terrible director of the FBI.

The president is mad, of course -- that's probably a tame word -- mad, of course, because Comey's book is out and in it Comey paints a devastating portrait of a selfish, narcissistic, unethical president who runs the White House he says like an organized crime boss and who didn't seem to care that Russia was actively meddling in U.S. elections. Now the book publicity tour -- take a deep breath -- just beginning.

Here is Comey on briefing the then president-elect on that now infamous, and we must also say unverified -- Russia dossier.


GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS: How weird was that briefing?

JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: Really weird. It was almost an out of body experience for me. I was floating above myself looking down saying, you're sitting here briefing the incoming president of the United States about prostitutes in Moscow.

I honestly never thought these words would come out of my mouth, but I don't know whether the -- the current president of the United States was with prostitutes peeing on each other in Moscow in 2013. It's possible, but I don't know.


KING: A quick, probably failed attempt at context here. The notes and other records that Comey handed over to the special counsel, Robert Mueller, ultimately matter a whole lot more than the book and the president's nuclear response to the book. But the book is front and center now, and Comey's portrait of the president is beyond jaw- dropping. And one of the big questions in town, we were just talking about it during the break is, is that the right approach for Comey to go, to go tabloid? I don't know if there were prostitutes in Moscow or not. I can't say there were, but I can't say there weren't. Or, should Comey be saying, I'm not going to talk about questions like that. Here's what I know. Here's what happened in my meetings with the president. Here's what I know he did. Here are the facts. I'll leave that to others.

RAJU: Yes, I mean, the more damaging thing for the president is whether or not he tried to get James Comey to back off the investigation of his former national security adviser, Michael Flynn. Of course, Comey has testified publicly under oath that he did, in fact, do this. And the president's denied, not under oath, that he asked Comey to pull back. He provides some new details about exactly what happened. But essentially provides the same information that we knew about that alleged interaction.

This other stuff gives critics an opportunity to seize on him as being petty, as being -- just trying to sell books. So it's certainly a risk when he uses the personal attacks.

I was on The Hill this morning talking to Republicans who actually were not necessarily fans of the president, some who are in that camp, and they were taken aback by Comey's attacks on the president. So maybe this may work to get headlines but maybe not to achieve his ultimate objective.

MURRAY: And --

OLIVIER KNOX, CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, SIRIUS XM: But there's sort of the substance of this, the substance of these problems, whether he -- whether the president insisted on a loyalty oath, whether he told Jim Comey to back off the investigation, the former national security. That's all proceeding on a different track. Jim Comey doesn't need to talk about that quite as much.

Leaving aside the evidentiary threshold of, I was unable to prove or disprove this thing, so maybe it's possible, especially when it's a salacious allegation, you know, the Comey book, as Manu pointed out, has a lot of stuff in there about the president's physical appearance. It has repeated references to the Trump orbit as being like an organized crime family. He's clearly going the tabloid route on the book-selling part of this because he doesn't need to really get into the substance very much. There's a whole parallel track. There are multiple investigations that are digging into all this --

KING: Now, some would argue, as we've seen with Michael Avenatti and the Stormy Daniels case, if you're going to beat Trump, you've got to play Trump. You've got to play the same way the president plays.

To your point, in your point, your conversations on Capitol Hill, here's Trey Gowdy, Republican of South Carolina. Someone's who's asked some tough questions of the president, especially since he announced he wasn't going to run for re-election, using a trademark Trump term here and characterizing what -- his take on Comey, sad.

[12:20:09] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. TREY GOWDY (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I think it's sad. Well, one of the thing Director Comey and I did agree on is we needed an apolitical FBI. We had some fairly heated exchanges about that. I can't think of anyone who's done a better job of politicizing the FBI than he has in the last 36 to 48 hours by talking about tanning bed goggles and the length of a tie. That is beneath the dignity of the offices that he held. So I'm really disappointed.


KING: Let's go sell some books.

MURRAY: Yes, oh, it's definitely going to sell some books. And it felt like you can see how some of the more important points of this book in terms of, you know, the future of the United States of America get lost when you're talking about prostitutes and tan lines. You know, when he is -- when Comey is recounting the president learning and the president's team learning that Russia interfered in the 2016 election when he was then the president-elect, and their first question is, did it impact the results of the election, and then immediately turning to, how are we going to spin this to show that we actually won this electoral victory, rather than saying, OK, I'm about to be president of the United States, how do I guard America's election system? We're going to have midterms coming up in 2018, how do we make sure this doesn't happen again? That's an really important part of the book. And get a window into that in Comey's telling. But I think it gets overshadowed in large part because people want to focus on sort of the more salacious things about prostitutes.

KING: All right, then let's go back and listen to some of that because Comey's talking about, you're briefing the president-elect then of the United States. You're telling him you have this dossier. Parts of it are unverified. But you're also telling -- giving him, now that he's the president-elect, a much more detailed briefing on what Russia did.

And to Sara's point, Comey says the president asked, did it impact the election, can we put that -- can we make sure we get that out, because it didn't impact the election. And what Comey says, he's curious about, is that the president never is tough on Vladimir Putin. Constantly, he says, sort of apologizing for Vladimir Putin.


STEPHANOPOULOS: You also said you were struck by what they didn't ask.

COMEY: Very much. No one, to my recollection, asked, so what -- what's coming next from the Russians? How might we stop it? What's the future look like? It was all, what can we say about what they did and how it affects the election that we just had?


TALEV: I think we're right to say that this is Comey's strategy on day one and that Comey's strategy on day 10 or day 20 or day 30 may change. I can think of one really skilled public relations practitioner who can manipulate the media narrative to suit his tactical needs, and that's President Trump, and then I can think of another, and that's Jim Comey. And you can say that this isn't dignified behavior for an FBI director, but if Jim Comey is taking a lesson from President Trump, it is precisely that lesson about fighting fire with fire. And the idea that the president of the United States himself, you can imagine, we have heard him say things like, I don't know if that's true. Some would say that's true. Some have said that's true.

Now, but Jim Comey's long-term reputation for the last year, year and a half, is as a law and order man, someone devoted to the FBI and sort of the parody of that practice. And I think we may see his discussions about this evolve.

KING: Right. And just for the public interest in this conversation, CNN's Brian Stelter is reporting this. The publisher printing 850,000 copies of James Comey's book. That's the initial print run for James Comey's book. The initial print run for that Michael Wolfe book, "Fire and Fury," 150,000 copies. So they clearly believe they have interest in the book.

We'll come back to this later in the program.

But the big -- a big question I had very essentially is, look, you know, I'm sorry for the Trump supporters out there. You're not going to like this. But the president, this president, has a constant problem with the truth. A constant problem with the truth. So many things this president of the United States says are simply not true. Is he a credible witness in calling James Comey a liar?

RAJU: The American public doesn't seem to think so. The new "Washington Post"/ABC poll out today said that 32 percent trust President Trump compared to Comey, who got 48 percent in that poll. Which aren't stellar numbers for Comey, but a lot better than the president's. So the president had his own credibility problems, which is why, you know, his attack, you know, going after Comey may not be as effective as he hopes.

KING: All right, we'll come back to that a big later in the program.

This programing note as we head to break here. The former FBI director, James Comey, will sit down with CNN's James Tapper. That's next Thursday on "The Lead," 4:00 p.m. Eastern. You won't want to miss that as this story continues to play out.

Coming up for us here, as the president mulls military action in Syria, his ambassador to the United Nations, in remarkably blunt language, calls out Russia.


[12:28:47] KING: Welcome back.

The president's National Security Council scheduled to meet again today on the Syria question. This as the Trump administration says it is now certain the Syrian regime used chemical weapons against its own people last week. And with that came a remarkable, public indictment of Russia. The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, complaining Moscow is repeatedly using its Security Council veto to block action against the Assad regime and repeatedly, she says, failing to keep its promises.


NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: Our allies know who did this. Russia can complain all it wants about fake news, but no one is buying its lies and its cover-ups. Russia was supposed to guarantee that Assad wouldn't use chemical weapons, and Russia did the opposite.

Our president has not yet made a decision about possible actions in Syria, but should the United States and our allies decide to act in Syria, it will be in defense of a principle on which we all agree.


KING: Some new details now on why the president is taking his time to decide. CNN is told that Defense Secretary James Mattis is warning the president he risks dramatically escalating U.S. involvement in Syria if he goes ahead with the type of aggressive bombing campaign he has asked the Pentagon to prepare. That's where we are now.