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President Trump Attempts to Distance Himself from Michael Cohen; Stormy Daniels' Attorney Says Their Case Gets Better Every Day; Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired April 26, 2018 - 12:00   ET


[12:00:34] JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. Thank you for sharing another dizzying news day here in the nation's capitol.

The president's personnel judgment front and center today. Dr. Ronny Jackson out as the nominee to lead the VA and the EPA administrator this hour facing tough questions about his ethics and his judgment.

Plus, he tried the handshake and hug approach but it didn't work. And so before flying back home, the president of France called President Trump's foreign policy decisions on Iran and climate change, his word, insane.

And morning show Trump is back. And angry. The president vents at senators, James Comey, his own Justice Department, and brace yourself, even compliments CNN. He also tried to distance himself from his longtime personal lawyer and fixer, Michael Cohen, who is back in federal court this hour.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They're trying to destroy a man. By the way, I did say welcome to Washington, welcome to the swamp. There is no collusion with me and the Russians. Nobody has been tougher to Russia than I am. You can ask President Putin about that. Now everyone knows it's a fix, OK? It's a witch hunt. And they know that, and I've been able to message it. I would give myself an A-plus. I have accomplished, with all of this going on, more than any president in the first year in our history. And everybody -- even the enemies and the haters admit that.


KING: Suffice it to say a lot to talk about this hour. We begin here. The president's longtime lawyer and fixer, Michael Cohen, back in federal court in New York this hour. And President Trump getting a real time lesson in just why his lawyers keep begging him to stop talking about pending cases.

The court hearing is for an update on how to handle the records and materials the FBI seized from Cohen's offices and his home. Because those materials relate to Cohen's work for the president, there is, of course, extra sensitivity about how to handle them and how to protect things covered by attorney-client privilege. But prosecutors today are saying it perhaps isn't as big a deal as Cohen and the president's lawyers have been insisting. Here's the government's new evidence fresh in today.


STEVE DOOCY, FOX NEWS HOST: How much of your legal work was handled by Michael Cohen?

TRUMP: Well, as a percentage of my overall legal work, a tiny, tiny little fraction. But Michael would represent me and represent me on some things. He represents me, like, with this crazy Stormy Daniels deal. He represented me, and, you know, from what I see, he did absolutely nothing wrong. There were no campaign funds going into this.


KING: Now, that tiny, tiny little fraction comment? That's what prosecutors are focusing on in the federal court hearing in New York today. The rest of the president's answer there is also a new exhibit in a big civil case, the one filed by adult film actress Stormy Daniels. You just heard the president from his angry call with "FOX and Friends" this morning saying no campaign funds were used to buy Daniels' silence. Three weeks ago, though, the president said he didn't know anything about the payment.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Do you know about the $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels?

TRUMP: No. No. What else?

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Then why did Michael Cohen make those comments if they were just allegations?

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


KING: You'll have to ask Michael.

With me today to share their reporting and their insights, Julie Pace, with the Associated Press, Bloomberg's Sahil Kapur, Michael Shear of the "New York Times" and Mary Katharine Ham with the "Federalist."

It is stunning the federal prosecutors walk into the Cohen hearing which started just a few minutes ago and as part of their argument to the judge about how to handle these documents, according to president on "FOX & Friends" this morning.

JULIE PACE, ASSOCIATED PRESS: It's really amazing. I mean, we've seen this happen in some cases involving the travel ban in particular where things the president said have been used in court. We rarely see it happen in this rapid succession, though. The president says it one hour and the next hour it's in court.

I think what he said, it's unclear what the legal significance of it is going to be eventually, but this idea of this changing story, I knew nothing about what Michael Cohen was doing, Michael Cohen says Trump knew nothing, now Trump is saying that Cohen was representing him in this matter.

The fact that the story keeps changing for Michael Avenatti, for Stormy Daniels' lawyer, and for anyone who wants to try to question Trump in related matters, I think it only enhances their case to say we have to interview the president directly because the public comments he makes keep changing.

MICHAEL SHEAR, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: And it underscores the danger for the president if he ever does sit down to answer questions in any of these cases, whether it be the case -- the Stormy Daniels case or the Mueller case. You know, the president is not disciplined in either deciding not to say something or when he does say something in saying it exactly the same way each time.

[12:05:16] And that is what, you know, brings people into jeopardy in these kinds of situations.

KING: Right. This is on two tracks. The hearing that's under way right this hour is Michael Cohen in New York. They seized all his materials, they took his phone, his physical laptop, they took a whole lot of bank records. The president in the interview this morning are saying I got nothing to worry about. He has lawyers in this hearing to make sure that nothing that affects Michael Cohen's legal advice to the president gets thrown into the public domaine here. But if you listen to the president this morning, this is a sort of trademark Trump. We've heard this about Paul Manafort in the past, we've hears this about others. Michael Cohen, I kind of know him but not that well.


AINSLEY EARHARDT, FOX NEWS HOST: Why is he pleading the Fifth?

TRUMP: Because he's got other things, he's got businesses, and from what I understand they're looking at his businesses, and I hope he's in great shape. But he's got businesses and his lawyers probably told him to do that. But I'm not involved and I'm not -- and I've been told I'm not involved.


KING: Key point from the president at the end, I've been told I'm not involved. Now we do know from our reporting he's been told by the deputy attorney general that in the federal investigation of Michael Cohen that at least at this moment the president is not a target. This is about Cohen's business dealings, bank records, trying to track some money. Not at the moment. But again that's the president, like, you know, that's Michael's thing, it's got nothing to do with me.

PACE: It's a classic Trump move, right? He's close to people for years and then he can manage to distance himself in a second if he feels like advantageous. Starting with Paul Manafort when he got roped into the investigation. We see these people who we know people have been around him for years and years. He has no problem saying, I wasn't involved. Not my person.

KING: And --

SAHIL KAPUR, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, BLOOMBERG: He's been described as a lawyer, he's been described as a fix. He kind of sometimes as a PR surrogate. He's a business intermediary in the past. I think all these questions are going to come up. The president also said in that "FOX and Friends" interview that Cohen has only represented him in a tiny, tiny portion of legal cases. With President Trump that is still a lot of legal cases.


KING: And you look at that, to show you some of this relationship. Michael Cohen is a big deal. He calls himself a pitbull. Yes, the president has other lawyers, but he's a Trump longtime personal attorney, worked at the Trump Organization, traveled to Moscow in fact to explore the possibility of a Trump Tower. Perhaps that fell through. Negotiated this payment to Daniels. He's been involvement politically. Co-founded the "Should Trump Run?" Web site back in 2011. He raised money for the campaign.

So Michael Trump (sic) is as close to Donald Trump as you can get. I understand the president is saying that the business investigation has nothing to do with me. But the -- there is a reason the president has attorneys in that hearing. He understands the stakes for him.

MARY KATHARINE HAM, THE FEDERALIST: Yes. I've said it before, I'm happy for the government to have to jump through hoops on this.

KING: Right.

HAM: And to prove why this was necessary to raid an attorney's office. I think that's good for all of us. And I'm kind of with Julie on the fact the Daniels story, I'm not sure what the legal implications are yet. It does reflect not well on the president and I think it points to what I think has been the problem for this administration throughout, that even if there's not much there-there at the end of an investigation, they are not careful, they are not disciplined, and Mueller and others have shown, you know, no timidity about going after people for making false statements.

KING: Right.

HAM: And so if you are in those rooms, then you are likely to walk down that path, and I think that's the real danger for him. This with the underlying crime that we do not know yet, now it looks like a very scummy $130,000 FEC violation. So that's not quite the biggest legal trouble in the world even though --

KING: Not the biggest legal trouble in the world. And we're bouncing around and it's hard sometime to keep the distinctions. There's the federal case, the investigation of Michael Cohen. There's also the Stormy Daniels civil suit. She's trying to be relieved from a nondisclosure agreement.

HAM: She's more dangerous than that.

KING: They want to depose the president of the United States. Here's Stormy Daniels' lawyer this morning saying, remember, on Air Force One the president says, I don't know about it, call Michael Cohen. Today the president says, call Michael Cohen but it didn't involve campaign funds. He seems to express a little bit more knowledge about the details of it, not about the timing of it.

Michael Avenatti, Stormy Daniels' attorney says this is the reason he wants a federal judge to say the president has to be deposed under oath.


MICHAEL AVENATTI, LAWYER FOR STORMY DANIELS: This case gets better every day, every hour, and one of the reasons why it gets better is that they step into every trap that we lay. It's going to add considerable momentum to our efforts to depose the president and place him under oath because now we have two contrary statements made within the same month relating to what he knew about the agreement, what he didn't know, what his relationship was with Michael Cohen, and we're going to utilize that statement today to argue for his deposition.


KING: Now, to be fair to the president, they're not contrary statements, they're not directly contradictory statements, but they're different statements. One expresses more knowledge, one seems to express some knowledge, and again to be fair to the president, he watches a lot of news. You know, he may have known nothing about this in October --


KING: He may have known -- if he knew nothing about this in October 2016, he sure as you-know-what knows a lot about it now because it's everywhere. But --

[12:10:03] SHEAR: It would have been actually more dangerous for him if the two sets of statements were reversed, right?

KING: Correct.

SHEAR: If he had claimed to know something before and then now claimed that he didn't. In theory, he could argue that both statements are operative because he since learned more about --

KING: Because it does help, because they're not consistent statements.

SHEAR: Right. KING: It does help Michael Avenatti's case, one would assume, to go

to a judge and say, look, let's only one way to clear this out, let's put the president under oath, let's take this in one setting, to have the time to go through it. Let the president correct the record if it needs to be. The only way to fix this is to have a deposition.

KAPUR: This reminds me of where James Comey talked about how prosecutors draw upon a reservoir of trust and credibility and inconsistent statements even whether they're not fully contradictory, and the general credibility of a person who's a subject, or a witness or a target or whatever that may be influences how prosecutors, you know, bring their case and what happens in court. So I think these statements by the president whatever he says do really matter even though he doesn't realize the legal implications in the moment.

KING: And this is why throughout all the changes in the president's legal team, the one consistent, despite the changing personnel, has been, Mr. President, please stop. Stop talking. Stop tweeting. Don't talk about pending cases because everything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. That's a cliche but also happens to be true.

HAM: Well, lucky for Trump, Mr. Avenatti is a real mild-mannered lawyer.


HAM: You know, the president might put on him, so.

PACE: But he's not -- you know, Avenatti is not wrong. He has been laying these traps for the president, and because the president cannot stop talking, cannot stop tweeting about all manner of issues, he does tend to fall into some of these exact traps. Again, we have to be clear. It doesn't -- it's not clear what this adds up to legally for the president right now, but just in terms of the optics of it, the idea that the president does keep seeming to fall into Stormy Daniels' traps.

KING: To that point about the optics and everything, another inconsistency, the president this morning saying, you know, this is Michael's business, Michael is pleading the Fifth, that's up to Michael, no big deal, let Michael handle his case.

The president is on the record in other matters not involving people close to him saying anyone who pleads the Fifth must be lying.


TRUMP: Did you see her IT specialist? He's taken the Fifth. The word is he's ratting her out like you wouldn't believe it. When you have your staff taking the Fifth Amendment, taking the Fifth, so they're not prosecuted, I think it's disgraceful. If you're innocent, why are you taking the Fifth Amendment?

(END VIDEO CLIP) KING: The Fifth Amendment happens to be one of our most cherished legal tradition in the United States of America so that an American citizen can protect him or herself in a legal proceeding, especially if there are two or three legal proceedings going on at the same time.

Michael Cohen is deciding the fed case is a big deal. The civil case? I'm not saying a thing in that proceeding until I'm done with this one. Makes perfect legal sense for Michael Cohen, but the contradiction is in the president, everything he says in the past comes back to kick him.

KAPUR: We don't base our legal judgments on our conception of American law and what Donald Trump said on the campaign trail then, we're not going to start doing it now. The Fifth Amendment is, as you said, a bedrock of American law where just because you're taking it, it does not amount to an admission of guilt. The Supreme Court has held in 2001 that it could simply mean you don't want to give the prosecutors or people coming after you information that could be used unfairly against you.

KING: Now if you could only convince those on Twitter and other places out there to remind -- never mind what the president said, respect the Constitution. Good luck, sir.

Next for us after a quick break, the doctor is out. After vowing to fight on Ronny Jackson withdrawing to be the VA secretary and president lashing out at his critics.


[12:17:43] KING: Welcome back. There's more Trump personnel chaos today. The White House doctor Ronny Jackson withdrawing his nomination to be the secretary of Veteran Affairs. That coming this morning. Dr. Jackson reversing course after vowing to fight a list of troubling allegations about his personal and professional conduct. President Trump says he already had a replacement in mind.

Now the reservations about Dr. Jackson, though, bipartisan indeed, but the president this morning lashing out at one Democratic senator on the relevant committee. The president also brushing aside the allegations which range from drinking while on duty, banging on the hotel room door of a female subordinate, leading a hostile work environment and improperly dispensing prescription medications.


TRUMP: Doc Ronny -- you know, we call him Doc Ronny, we call him Admiral -- he's an admiral, highly respected, a real leader. He would have done a great job. A tremendous heart.

DOOCY: Any idea who you might --

TRUMP: These are all false accusations that were -- these are false. They're trying to destroy a man. By the way, I did say welcome to Washington, welcome to the swamp. Welcome to the world of politics.


KING: After that interview a tweet from Ivanka Trump praised Ronny Jackson and Ivanka Trump saying she looks forward to working and seeing him at the White House every day.

But key senators say they want to continue to investigate his conduct. And there is also a question of whether the Pentagon will be compelled to look into these allegations.

Number one, anyone have a sense? Anyone know who the president is going to replace him with?

PACE: He had a list before he made this surprise decision to put Ronny Jackson out there, and it was made up of some fairly traditional candidates and some non-traditional candidates. So there is a pool of people that he can go back to.

I think the real question is what he's going to be hearing from Republican senators about the next name that he puts forward. A lot of these Republican senators are just going to want him to put forward a pretty conventional pick, someone who can get through a confirmation hearing in an election year pretty easily on an issue like veterans that should be pretty safe ground for both the White House --

KING: And let's roll you back on that point because it's a critical point. But before you can get to that point, the president has to look himself in the mirror and acknowledge the mistakes made in this process.

PACE: Right.

KING: That even if he wanted Dr. Jackson, you have to this investigation beforehand you got to do it yourself. If these allegations are false, be able to have that evidence, have that material when he meets with senators. If one or two of them are correct, and you think Dr. Jackson has learned his lesson, we're all human. Make your case to senators as you go through some of this stuff.

[12:20:07] Instead the president nominated him on a whim, sent him up there without doing a thorough vetting, and now his reputation has been tarnished. And the senators on Capitol Hill, at least the Democrats, say they want to keep going. That this is -- forget Donald Trump, forget Republicans. That there is a doctor who side by side with the president of the United States on these key foreign trips and there are questions about his conduct.

SHEAR: Well, not only do I think that the president hasn't learned the lesson about the vetting question, but because Dr. Jackson a nomination was sort of -- went awry because of these character issues, the president also has not confronted what were deep questions even before the character questions about whether he had the experience and the qualifications to lead this kind of agency. So I think, you know, whoever he picks, there is no indication that those lessons have been learned, either the vetting or the qualification. KING: Sarah Sanders -- excuse me for interrupting. Sarah Sanders

just saying at the White House, the president has a great deal of respect for Ronny Jackson, he's a terrific guy, really likes him a lot, hates what's happened over the last several days but this is a great guy.

Let's focus on the hates what has happened over the last several days. Everyone should hate what has happened over the last several days. A process done backwards has put maybe legitimate, maybe unfounded allegations about the personal and professional conduct of somebody who has served honorably in the United States military in the public spear. He's also caused the senators, Democrats and Republicans, to clean up a mess the president made by not doing his homework beforehand.

Republicans are expressing just as deep concerns about Dr. Jackson. The president lashed out this morning at Jon Tester, the Democrat, lranking Democratic member of the committee who happens to be up for reelection this year in Montana, a state the president won by a lot. And Jon Tester did. If you look at television, Johnny Isakson, the chairman, we're told he called the White House, he said this isn't trouble. You should pull it. On television he just said there were allegations that need to be investigated.

Jon Tester went on television and said his nickname is the candy man for giving out prescription drugs. Did say some more provocative, and I would say, hand over your key stuff, let the man have a hearing, let the man have a chance to answer these allegations first. The president this morning focusing on the senator from Montana.


TRUMP: I watched what Jon Tester of Alabama, a state that I won by like over 20 points, you know really they love me and I love them. And I want to tell you that Jon Tester, I think this is going to cause him a lot of problems in his state. But for Jon Tester to start bringing up stuff like candy man and the kind of things he was saying. And then say, what, you know, these are just statements that are made.

DOOCY: Right.

TRUMP: There's no proof of this. For him to be doing this to this man and this family, I think Jon Tester has to have a big price to pay in Montana.


KING: Two minutes, 28 seconds to answer. The president mentioned Jon Tester four times. Senator Tester says, hey, wait a minute. I've been bipartisan on these issues. I've worked with the president at the White House on veterans issues that we have a legitimate whistle blowers come forward and it was my job to investigate. Then I would say to Senator Tester then maybe you shouldn't have been so provocative on television. But Senator Tester says it's Congress' responsibility now to keep this investigation going. HAM: And so I think the president knows a good political target so,

Republicans aside, and let's go after a guy in a statement who really might pay a price, right? And I do think some of his language is a little irresponsible given that there hasn't been the full investigation.

To speak up for Admiral Jackson, you don't get to be an admiral by being a screw-up and he had served three administrations with glowing reviews. Not just, like, we like the guy, but over the top glowing reviews. People who came to his defense when he did the health assessment of President Donald Trump from the Obama administrations --


KING: Including President Obama himself and the staff. Right.

HAM: So I just want to put that word in. I feel for him, and he got put in this position. I'm open to evidence but there is all these evidence from these past three administrations, but do I think the lesson was learned about vetting? Likely not. We just have to hope that one person on that list has already gone through the gong.

KING: And you make another key point, and this administration doesn't like process conversations, but you make a key point. If a tenth of this stuff about Dr. Jackson is true, not only will he be held accountable, but people have to go back and figure out well, then, what was happening.

HAM: Right.

KING: In the previous administrations, why wasn't this documented? Why were people just letting it float? The bag that's excellent point as well. When we come back the EPA administrator, Scott Pruitt in the chair on Capitol Hill. Republicans being relatively polite. Democrats not so much.


[12:28:00] KING: Welcome back. From personnel chaos to personnel controversy now. The Environmental Protection Agency, Chief Scott Pruitt in the witness chair on Capitol Hill insisting most of the news stories questioning his ethics, his judgment and his spending habits are wrong or overblown. But he also promises to do a better job.


SCOTT PRUITT, EPA ADMINISTRATOR: I recognize there have been very troubling media reports over the past few weeks. I promise you that I, more than anyone, want to establish the hard facts and provide answers to questions surrounding these reports.

Let me be very clear. I have nothing to hide as it relates to how I've run the agency for the past 16 months. I'm not afraid to admit that there's been a learning process, and when Congress or independent bodies of oversight find fault in our decision making, I want to correct that ask a nd ensure that it does not happen again. (END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Now so far the Republicans at the hearing pretty polite to Pruitt. Democrats anything but, calling him a mix of a failure and an embarrassment to the president.


REP. FRANK PALLONE (D), NEW JERSEY, RANKING MEMBER, ENERGY AND COMMERCE COMMITTEE: You said that you're staying because only you can carry out the president's mission. And I strongly disagree with that. I think your actions are an embarrassment to President Trump and distract from the EPA'S ability to effectively carry out the president's mission. And if I were the president, I wouldn't want your help. I'd just get rid of you.


KING: Now, if you haven't been paying attention, those troubling media reports that Pruitt acknowledged, well, take a peek. How much time do you have? Scott Pruitt's $25,000 soundproof booth has actually cost $43,000. He paid officials sidelined after questioning Scott Pruitt. Look at those headlines pouring in. There are more and more. I think you get the point.