Return to Transcripts main page
THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER
Trump Insists Nothing Has Changed with Plans for Summit Despite North Korea Warning; More Questions Swirling Around Cohen's Financial Dealings; The New Yorker: Two Critical Reports On Cohen's Finances Are Missing From Government Database; New Footage Shows Deadly Ambush. Aired 4:30-5p ET
Aired May 17, 2018 - 16:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: And one of the things that's interesting, you talk about sowing the seeds of doubt in the investigation, Rudy Giuliani seizing on the news broken by "The New York Times" yesterday about somebody, a confidential informant, in the Trump campaign that had spoken with the FBI.
[16:30:02] Take a listen to Rudy Giuliani using that as the latest color on his palette to paint this entire investigation as illegitimate.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RUDY GIULIANI, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S LAWYER: That's what you do! Maybe you shouldn't but you do it. Nothing illegal about that. And even if it comes from a Russian or a German or an American, it doesn't matter. And they never used it. It's the main thing.
Never used it. They rejected it. If there's collusion with the Russians, they would have used it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: That was not the sound bite I'm looking for. I'm looking for question what they did with Manafort. Can we play that?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GIULIANI: What they did with Manafort, what they did with Michael Cohen, all the illegitimate things they've done, possibly placing a spy in the Trump campaign.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: Laura, let me ask you, as a former federal prosecutor, is that unusual, is that illegitimate for the FBI to have an informant in the campaign if they're investigating whether the campaign is doing something illegal?
LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Not necessarily. Informants are often voluntarily providing information and approach the investigators, as well. If they have a plant, synonymous term with somebody who's willing to provide information and is willing I guess a better term to snitch on the information. So, to suggest that there's somehow a -- that it's not a mutual arrangement or one that was enforced and imposed upon somebody I think is probably not what happened in this case if it happened.
MARGARET HOOVER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: All we know is Carter Page probably on the wrong side of the law enforcement and informing the FBI as a plea deal. Look, not to spin conspiracy theories. What I will say is, Rudy said at the end, they write a report. They just write a report, that's all they do.
Look, we do have a separation of powers. Not jus a report written but it is a recommendation that, by the way, Congress can act on. And the strategy of spinning up the base and sowing doubt is not a good one, especially when you have what looks like a blue wave coming towards Congress and Nancy Pelosi or some Democrat as the speaker of the House, what do you suspect that they will do with any sort of report that comes out?
JOHN AVLON, EDITOR IN CHIEF, THE DAILY BEAST: Right. I mean, that's one of the resources here. Remember, this is different than previous investigations to report up to the Justice Department. So, there are, you know, constraints put on them by previous opinions by presidents and Justice Departments that have adopted.
But, obviously, if a Mueller report is damning, it could provide, you know, fodder for an impeachment proceeding. Now, I'm not an impeachment enthusiast. We don't know what the report would say, but that's one mechanism for this to be resolved outside the court of law. So, it's important for people to keep that in mind, and also that in the Clinton/Jones case, that was a civil trial. So, you know, that is very different than what we're contemplating in this case.
TAPPER: I recall you being an Andrew Johnson enthusiast. So, I contradict you on that.
Thanks one and all for conversation.
President Trump tamping down his rhetoric on North Korea. Is he worried that the summit is falling apart? Stay with us.
[16:36:50] TAPPER: And we're back with our world lead.
Moments ago, President Trump saying nothing has changed in the plans for the upcoming June 12th summit with North Korean dictator Kim Jong- un despite the rogue regime's demand that the U.S. end joint military drills with South Korea.
My panel's back with me.
Something else President Trump said that was really surprising. First of all, take a listen to national security adviser John Bolton talking about nuclear negotiations with North Korea and the upcoming summit. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN BOLTON, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Right. I think we are looking at the Libya model of 2003, 2004. It doesn't have to be the same as Libya but it's got to be something concrete and tangible. May be that Kim Jong-un has some ideas and we should hear him out.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: Now, just to be clear, the Libyan model has nothing to do with deposing Gadhafi. It had to do with the Bush administration negotiating to get rid of Gadhafi's nukes in 2003, 2004.
Now, listen to President Trump today when asked about the Libya model.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The Libyan model isn't a model that we have at all when we're thinking of North Korea. In Libya, we decimated that country. We never said to Gadhafi, oh, we are going to give you protection.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AVLON: Not exactly.
HOOVER: So, I think the president was thinking about his presidential campaign talking points and how Hillary Clinton had a bad strategy for Libya and he wasn't paying attention to the fact that message he wants Kim Jong-un to get is if you give over your nuclear weapons, we can protect your family and you can continue to keep your reign and if you don't, you will be like Saddam Hussein, right? That's a message trying to get.
And I think he just got his Gadhafi talking points confused.
TAPPER: So, you don't think he disagrees with Bolton, you think he just doesn't understand what Bolton is talking about?
HOOVER: Ii think he knows what he said about Hillary Clinton repeatedly throughout the campaign which is that she made a bad --
AVLON: This edition of Margaret Hoover Trump whisperer brought to you --
TAPPER: Very diplomatic and polite about that.
AVLON: No, but -- I mean, look, what he's doing is the glass half full of Libya. Bolton is talking about '03, '04. When dictators trying to hold on to nuclear weapons, they may see Gadhafi's corpse and they say that didn't turn out to well. Nukes are good guarantee of success. What I think Trump was trying to do but getting his facts a little bit muddled is say, look, if played ball, if you denuclearize, we will protect you and you will live in prosperity and can retain power. If you don't, you're going to end up dead.
HOOVER: Didn't I just say that?
TAPPER: Yes, you said that exact thing.
HOOVER: I have said the same thing, and then my husband said it stronglier.
TAPPER: No, I don't think it was stronger at all. I don't think it was stronger at all.
TAPPER: No, no. I don't think stronger at all.
But you are saying he just got caught up in the campaign talking points opposed to --
HOOVER: I think it was default, yes.
TAPPER: -- understanding what Bolton was talking about.
HOOVER: Ii think he hadn't maybe read the briefing book of the 2003, 2004 part about how Gadhafi actually did after 9/11, offer up his nuclear weapons and then did end up reigning peacefully until 2013. That's -- the first part of that is the model we want Kim Jong-un to take part.
TAPPER: But President Trump -- what about the idea that President Trump saying, we never said to Gadhafi, oh, we're going to give you protection? Implying that they are saying to Kim Jong-un, we're going to give you protection?
AVLON: Oh, that's very clearly what they're implying. I mean, I think he didn't -- maybe -- the details of the 2003 deal with Gadhafi maybe not as strong suit, Bolton's got more proficiency on that. But I think explicitly what they're offering or intending to offer is, if you denuclearize, we will give you protection and, of course, in a Trumpian way, you will be awash in cash. You'll be very wealthy, your country will be wealthy. If you don't, then it's going to look really bad for you and your family.
TAPPER: Can they do that, though? Can they promise that, first of all, that regime change is no longer -- I mean, Bolton used to have regime change as a goal. Now, he is in the administration that's not their stated goal.
But can they take that off the table? We're going to support you, Kim Jong-un, no matter what as long as you denuclearize? Is that even the right thing to do?
HOOVER: I think the end point is a denuclearized North Korea and a denuclearized North Korean peninsula, and I give negotiators and Mike Pompeo and all of the security staff that support him there any sort of leeway to bargain in any way they think they can make in inroads with him, and if that includes saying, we'll keep you in power and we'll make sure your country is safe and your reign is secure because you're a young guy and you got 60 years ahead of you if you look at the longevity in your family, say what you got do say.
TAPPER: Say what you got do say. How do I get you into this car? How do --
AVLON: A denuclearized car. But you know what? I think also in the interest of America and the world is North Korea without concentration camps.
AVLON: And you can't ignore the human rights aspect to this, too. So, if simply offer to prop up a dictatorship, NO, I don't think that's in the United States' long-term interest.
TAPPER: All right. Thanks one and all. Appreciate it.
We know that Michael Cohen got paid by selling several companies on his access to the president, but now we're learning he reportedly pitched to foreign government on getting that same access. Just how shady is this?
Stay with us.
[16:45:00] JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: And still more on our "POLITICS LEAD." The President's personal attorney Michael Cohen now a focal point learning as we're learning more about a criminal investigation into him and the access he was allegedly pitching to clients. Cohen's name splashed across the headlines from Washington Post, and the New Yorker, Vanity Fair, the Intercept. The stories focused on his financial dealings, state of mind and now missing bank records. My panel is back with me. And Laura Coates, let me start with you. For the first time we're learning the Intercept reporting that Cohen pitched himself to a foreign government official asking for a million dollars from the Qatari government in 2016 in exchange for access and advice about the then incoming Trump administration. Is that legal?
LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, the idea of paying for play, unfortunately, it's swamp-like but it's not necessarily illegal but it can turn illegal if the motivation was to secure some sort of a bribe where there was a quid pro quo that was being requested without knowing everything in all the details. And of course, the Qatari government official did turn down that particular request. It's important for us to understand the contest here. It could very well be illegal if he was trying to get that million-dollar payment in order to secure a bribe or some influence or direct official act of President Donald Trump. And if it was known by the President of the United States he was doing that even more of a mushroom cloud for the administration let alone Michael Cohen.
TAPPER: And this is the same businessman we should point out, Ahmed al-Rumaihi who was then head of the investment division within the Qatari government that we saw at Trump Tower during that meeting supposedly between Michael Flynn and the Persian Gulf States Foreign Minister. What's the most odd to me about this is the fact that Cohen represented Trump at the same time he was doing this. Usually, with the quid pro quos and the selling access and that, the person ends the relationship, the official relationship with the primary, whether it was a senator or a president or whoever, then goes and peddles influence. I've never seen it work, it's at the same time.
JOHN AVLON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: It's obviously not --
MARGARET HOOVER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Don't you know the right way to be a lobbyist to the President of the United States? Don't you know the right way to trade on play for pray and have like codified cronyism and corruption in this government?
TAPPER: I'm just saying this seems unusual to me.
HOOVER: I mean, that's sort of what you're dealing here. I mean, the criticism on every level at the Trump regimes is sort of been a bit J.V. in the way they do everything and that corruption scandal.
AVLON: Yes, so it's not the same kind of professionalized corruption we've seen in the past, Jake. I mean, look, just to be clear, I mean, there's something inherently shady about during a transition hitting up a you know, Qatari you know, investor connected to the government and saying give may million dollars and make sure you have inroads to the administration. If that is done, it's usually the context of lobbying and it's a registered foreign agent, neither of which appeared to apply to Mr. Cohen. It was refused but this is -- this is nowhere in the universe of best practices.
TAPPER: One of the other story in the New Yorker, Ronan Farrow has this incredible scoop. The person who has been leaking some of Michael Cohen's financial records came forward to Ronan Farrow and said he did it because he's alarmed because two very sensitive reports related to Cohen's finances were supposed to be in a Treasury Department database and they're missing. Laura, how unusual is that?
COATES: Extremely unusual. Remember, this reports, this suspicious activity reports are generated because banks have an obligation to report to the government anything they suspect might be fraudulent activity, money laundering, tax-related issues, all these things to keep the government abreast because we do not want people to use our credit institutions, financial institutions for money laundering purposes. So you keep these not because they're proof of a crime but because they're enough to raise suspicion and alert the government and actually could be used as evidence later in a court proceeding. To have them just poof go into thin air and only these two reports when a third one that is known alludes to them something is very suspicious for it to evaporate in the thin air. Although I will say there is a possibility you can make some of this data more sensitive and removed from the system but that's not a usual practice at all. HOOVER: And we also -- I mean, there's -- look, the facts are what
they are. We don't know who removed them. It could be that they're nefariously removed but it also could be that they were removed by law enforcement officials at the higher levels because they're protecting -- they're covering their tracks or they're protecting their investigation.
[16:50:04] COATES: Right.
HOOVER: But what is clear, too, is that the individual leaked them which is an offense that could cost him up to $250,000 and five years in jail, a serious decision on that Justice Department -- on that individual's behalf because he was afraid that this could be suppressed and would not be known.
TAPPER: His fear speaks a lot about what's going on here.
AVLON: That's what's significant to me is that he did this wide-eyed knowing the risks because he was concerned not only for himself but for the direction of the our democracy.
HOOVER: Could be a she.
AVLON: It could be a she. That's a great point. And look, you know --
COATS: Don't bring women into this, Margaret.
AVLON: Fair and important point. But, you know, I think the reason it's potentially such a serious evolution in the case is this is where two of the old aphorisms around investigations seem to collide. Follow the money and it's not the crime, it's the cover-up.
TAPPER: Right. Cohen of course also saying that he's "not just going to roll over," according to Vanity Fair's Emily Jane Fox, he's supposedly told friends he's being attacked and his family is being made to suffer. Laura, the FBI doesn't just raid an office for no reason.
COATES: No, they don't. And certainly people have every right to defend themselves and Manafort you see is not rolling over, not working out as quite as well for him in that strategy, however, as the cases continue to go on. But every person who's accused of a crime has every right to defend themselves. Interestingly enough Michael Cohen has yet to be charged with a crime. And so, the fact that he's already planning for his defense in the event of indictment is probably quite telling, but it also as probably him saying that he is not going to roll over and sing like a canary, either. This may be an issue where he's trying to alert somebody that he has no intention of simply becoming a cooperator and that he will fight and that may have really be consequences for him, for Donald Trump who could always pardon somebody even before they're charged with a crime.
TAPPER: And that's one thing that's interesting about is this whole case having to do with Michael Cohen was referred to the Southern District of New York U.S. Attorney's office by Mueller. It wasn't in the per view but there's something there to investigate.
HOOVER: Well, I mean, that's exactly right. That you know, where there's smoke there's fire but this wasn't within the broad -- I mean, everybody criticizes Mueller for having such a broad scope of his investigation but frankly, he is staying within some kind of parameters rather than going for ancillary figures. He himself referred the ancillary figure to the Southern District.
TAPPER: Great panel. Thank you so much, everyone. I appreciate it. Coming up, a rear look at the horrifying moments when American soldier was separated from his team and pinned down in that horrific firefight. What really happened in that deadly ambush in Niger? Stay with us.
[16:55:00] TAPPER: In our -- in our "WORLD LEAD," stunning new video of an ISIS ambush that killed four American soldiers in Niger last year. This is the clearest look we've got in how that mission went wrong. CNN's Barbara Starr at the Pentagon filed this report.
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: A U.S. drone overhead captures the moment in Niger. Army Sergeant La David Johnson's body is pulled out from under a tree. 48 hours earlier, separated under fire from his teammates, this 25-year-old soldier trained as a mechanic makes a heroic last stand as he runs to the tree for cover. The Pentagon narrating a 23-minute video it produced explaining the Isis ambush last October in West Africa.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: An enemy vehicle armed with amounted heavy machine gun stopped within 100 meters of Sergeant Johnson's location firing on his position in cutting off further escape while and enemy forces closed in.
STARR: The Nigerians take his remains to a waiting helicopter. Johnson's family has seen the images but Pentagon says the rare drone video shows Johnson was never alive in enemy hands. Earlier, three other soldiers are killed also under heavy firefighting to save each other. The first, Staff Sergeant Bryan Black, then --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Staff Sergeant Jeremiah Johnson was shot and rendered immobile. Staff Sergeant Dustin Wright stopped returned to near his teammates' position and continued to engaged the enemy until both were fatally wounded.
STARR: The drone video offers extraordinary new details of heroism across the battlefield. A French jet flies through, scaring ISIS away but seven Americans and four Nigerians have fled into a wooded swamp. They are prepared to be shot dead.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They wrote short messages to loved ones on personal devices believing they would soon be overrun.
STARR: A U.S. soldier steps into a clearing waving an American flag, signaling their location. When Nigerian ground forces come in they mistakenly fire on the Americans for nearly a minute, thankfully no one is hurt. The mission was in trouble from the start. It is so poorly planned that it takes local rescue forces four hours to arrive. Medical evacuation comes in nearly six hours after the ISIS ambush begins.
STARR: The Pentagon estimates that the U.S. and Nigerian fighters were overrun by an ISIS force that had of a three to one advantage over them. Still no real answers how military intelligence failed the men so badly. Jake?
TAPPER: All right, Barbara Starr at the Pentagon, thank you so much. Be sure to follow me on Facebook and Twitter @JAKETAPPER or you can tweet the show @THELEADCNN. I'm going to be on the late show with Steven Colbert later tonight to discuss my new novel the Hellfire Club which of course is available at your local bookstore or on Amazon.com. That's it for THE LEAD today. I now turn you over to Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM." Thanks so much for watching.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news, North Korea protection. The President says preparations are still underway --