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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES
CNN Sources: Cohen Claims Trump Knew of 2016 Trump Tower Meeting in Advance; President Trump, Michael Cohen Come Apart At Seams; White House Toggles Between Cohen Staging Epic Attack Against President Trump Strong Economic Report. Aired 8-9p ET
Aired July 27, 2018 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[20:00:13] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Good evening.
It says something about the kind of week we've seen or month or year, three, for that matter that the big question tonight is, who are you going to believe? Someone not known for telling the truth or someone on record having made more than 3,000 false or misleading statements since becoming president? It says even more that this entirely deeply offensive notion also seems to be the president's entire defensive strategy tonight.
CNN was first to report, sources tell us that Michael Cohen is prepared to tell Russia's Special Counsel Robert Mueller that candidate Trump had advanced knowledge of the new infamous June 2016 meeting between his son, son-in-law, campaign chairman and Russians promising Kremlin intelligence on Hillary Clinton. In short, if Mr. Cohen is to believed, everything that the candidate and later president, his son, the president's lawyers have been saying ever since has been false.
And the defense, that's pretty rich are. It boils down to this. Don't believe him. He's a liar. Pot, meet kettle.
I did not know of the meeting with my son, Don Jr., the president tweeted this morning. It sounds to me like someone is trying to make up stories in order to get himself out of an unrelated jam. Taxi cabs maybe? He even retained Bill and crooked Hillary's lawyer. Gee, I wonder if they helped him make the choice.
No further reaction on his way to another weekend at the golf course. But the forecast is for rain. So look, there may be more tweeting this weekend.
Also, no reaction from Don Jr., seen here today in what must have been a somewhat awkward moment, waiting close behind a seated Robert Mueller to board the same flight at Reagan National Airport in Washington. The two did not speak, making it the one meeting we absolutely positively know all there is to know about. No need to take anyone's word on that, especially not say, Michael Cohen's.
Here is the president's Rudy Giuliani talking to CNN's Chris Cuomo about the president's former confidante.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) RUDY GIULIANI, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S ATTORNEY: I expected something like this from this Cohen. He's been lying all week. He has been lying for years.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Lying for years, he says, which is strange because that means Michael Cohen must have been no less a liar when Rudy Giuliani was praising him for not being liar. So, was Mr. Giuliani lying in that clip you just heard, or lying in this one from just a couple of months ago?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GIULIANI: The man is an honest, honorable lawyer.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: It all becomes clear right now. It's confusing, to say the least. The honest honorable lawyer has also been deeply dishonest for years, or at least this week.
Maybe it's like truthful hyperbole or something. Or maybe like so much else these days is yet another thing that would be funny if it weren't so serious. After all, the assertion by Michael Cohen if true casts serious down on the president's long-time claims of no collusion with Russia. If true, what else would this be except the candidate having knowledge of or complicity in a form of premeditated collaboration or attempted collaboration with a hostile foreign power in the middle of its attack on American democracy. Now, you'll remember the meeting was in June of 2016, but we didn't learn about it until the following summer.
The campaign never spoke of it nor the participants nor the transition team nor later the White House or the president. No one said anything until "The New York Times" broke the story last July. And when people did talk, the first response was to be misleading about what was discussed and to loudly make the claim that's being disputed tonight that the president knew nothing about it before, after, and even a year after the fact.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS HOST: Did you tell your father anything about this?
DONALD TRUMP, JR., SON OF PRESIDENT TRUMP: No, it was such a nothing, there was nothing to tell.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Look, here is what happened. Donald Trump Jr. put it all out today. It's all out.
REPORTER: Did you know at the time they had the meeting?
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No, I didn't know anything about the meeting. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let's focus on what the president was aware of --
nothing. He was not aware of the meeting.
PRESIDENT TRUMP: It must have been a very unimportant meeting because I never even heard about it.
TRUMP JR.: I wouldn't even have member remembered it until you start scouring through the stuff. It was literally just a wasted 20 minutes, which was a shame.
REPORTER: No one told you a word, nothing? I know we talked about this on the plane a little bit.
But nobody --
TRUMP: No, nobody told me. I didn't know anything. It's very unimportant -- sounded like a very unimportant meeting.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The president has stated very clearly that he was not aware of the meeting and did not attend the meeting.
This is not a situation where the president was not involved in this meeting, was not aware of the meeting, did not attend the meeting.
REPORTER: When did the president learn that that meeting had taken place?
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I believe in the last couple of days is my understanding.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He didn't know about these this meeting until a couple of days ago?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, it's correct.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Yes, he only found out a few days before. He was not wear of the meeting, he was not involved, it sounded unimportant. It was such a nothing.
OK, but keeping them honest, if it was such a nothing, why did everyone from the president on down start lying about it the moment it became known? Remember, first, the meeting was billed primarily about adoption of Russian children. That was a lie. Then came more false statements about what was actually response form that bogus statement.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAY SEKULOW, ATTORNEY FOR PRESIDENT TRUMP: I wasn't involved in the statement drafting at all, nor was the president. I'm assuming that was between Mr. Donald Trump Jr., between Don Jr., and his lawyer.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: So, that was July 11th of last year. No presidential involvement at all. By early August, no involvement became some involvement.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SANDERS: The statement that Don Jr. issued is true. There is no inaccuracy in the statement. The president weighed in, as any father would, based on the limited information that he had.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Well, seven months later, Jay Sekulow was forced to admit in a letter to the special counsel that President Trump had in fact dictated what he characterized as a short but accurate statement, not just weighed in as any dad might, but dictated it, accurate or not.
Now, the consensus is not. In any event, it didn't stop his colleague Rudy Giuliani just last month from offering up this heaping helping of word salad.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GIULIANI: I think it's a -- I mean, I obviously asked Jay about this. I think he was informed at the time, just like I was when I came into the case. He was just in the case. This is a point that maybe wasn't clarified in terms of recollection and his understanding of it.
And what Jay did was he immediately corrected it. And even had been under oath, he would call that recanting. And it's Jay, not the president.
So that's the wisdom of not having a president testify. It's one thing to do it with a lawyer. It's another thing to do it with your client.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Got it? Make sense now?
The president's defenders can't seem to keep their story straight about the bogus story the president concocted about the meeting that they were misleading about after concealing for a year. That's one side of the equation. On the other side, the president's turncoat attorney who might or might not be telling truth about his serially less than honest former client, that's where we are tonight. And so is this: two years ago to the day, candidate Donald Trump just a few weeks after the Trump Tower meeting, he either did or did not know in advance about, stood up and said this to the country he is now accused of colluding with.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Russia, if you're listening, I hope you're able to find the 30,000 e-mails that are missing. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.
(END VIDEO CLIP) COOPER: As we said, the president left town without answering questions about this or anything else, which does not mean there was no news at the White House today, just the opposite.
CNN's Abby Phillip joins us now.
Has the White House any official response to this news about the Trump Tower meeting?
ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: They have not. The White House has not offered anything in the way of clarification about many of the comments you played there made from the podium by the press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders. And the president, as you just mentioned, left town without making any statements at all, leaving this as simply his word against his former lawyers.
But the president tried this morning in a tweet to preempt questions from reporters by saying, denying the story, saying he did not know anything about this meeting with Don Jr. and those Russians. But he does not want, clearly, to answer any questions from reporters about it at all, and that is not really how this works. The White House won't submit to any sort of inquiries at all from White House reporters about what they make of this new reporting and how that squares with all of those past statements, denying any knowledge whatsoever from the president about that meeting, Anderson.
COOPER: Do we have any idea what the mood of the president is right now amidst all of this?
PHILLIP: Well, he is clearly very angry. A White House source told us this week that he has been stewing for days about all of this reporting, watching the coverage on television, and he is angry not just with his former lawyer, Michael Cohen, but also with reporters who continue to ask him about this at all these opportunities. They try to change the subject this morning at a pretty hastily put together press conference in the rose garden. The press reporters kept feet away from the president, against the president just turned and walked out of the room after.
But those questions kept coming. And president Trump is clearly pretty annoyed about it. The tweets we have seen from President Trump this morning reflect pretty accurately where he is. He thinks these questions are a waste of his time and he doesn't want to talk about it. He'd rather talk about anything else.
COOPER: And, Abby, do I have my math right? Are we on day three now with no answers from the White House about lies exposed by the Cohen tape?
PHILLIP: That's exactly right. Three days of the president not saying anything about it, being asked about it. The White House also being asked about it, referring questions to the president's outside lawyers, and also, I should note, Anderson, not having any White House press briefings to answer any press briefings at all. Sarah Sander's last briefing on Monday. The White House has only had three press briefings all month. This is
the White House retreating from inquiries about all of these controversies swirling around this president. They don't want to talk about it, and they're not giving reporters opportunities to do it.
When they are pressed on it, they are lashing out at reporters, as we've seen this week. The White House is really leaving this out in the open, allowing these questions to continue to swirl around this president.
COOPER: Yes, three press briefings in a month, wow.
Abby Philips, thanks so much. More now on what Michael Cohen might say, the damage he could do and some of the other evidence we can look to help determine who is telling the truth here.
Joining us for that, CNN Political Analyst, Carl Bernstein, who shares the bylines from this remarkable scoop and has been there before. Also with us, "New York Times" White House Correspondent, Maggie Haberman, whose voice you heard in our opening page, and CNN Chief Legal Analyst, Jeffrey Toobin.
I mean, Maggie, it's, again, this odd situation where this is a story involving two people who are not known for their truth telling.
MAGGIE HABERMAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. I think it's interesting looking at that cascade of things, statements from Rudy Giuliani, who is the president's current lawyer. People who get around Donald Trump tend to take on his personality. This has been a habit that we have seen through the campaign. We have seen it through his career in business.
I think when Michael Cohen was working for Donald Trump, he said things that were not true. I think you see Rudy Giuliani now saying things that are not true. Giuliani told us of that tape of Michael Cohen and Donald Trump, that it was, quote/unquote, exculpatory. He described a series of events on this tape that did not quite play out once you heard the audio.
And so, I think that you are seeing Giuliani try to pit Trump's credibility against Michael Cohen's and suggest that Trump will win. You can't -- there is a problem, and this was the issue for them during the campaign. The corrosive lying and the corrosive distorting and the corrosive lack of telling the truth, it does have an impact at a certain point.
HABERMAN: And you can't just keep saying to people you're not hearing what you're hearing. Now, look, Michael Cohen contradicted himself, I think. I think he said something a little different to Congress about the Trump Tower meeting and he will have to deal with that if he gets called by Robert Mueller's investors.
But I do think when you look at aggregate what this White House has said, the myriad of things. I never get over Jay Sekulow saying that the president was involved in drafting the report. He may not have been told the truth. But this is the problem we hear over and over again. Well, this is the president saying author is this client saying then quit or don't parrot it if you don't believe it.
Again, we will see what gets said to federal investigators. It is a crime to lie to them. Michael Cohen has not yet been contacted by them as far as we know. How that plays out remains to be seen.
COOPER: Yes, I mean, Jeff, Donald Trump, the president has never under oath about this meeting. So, there is no law he would have broken. If he is lying, he is just lying to the American public and to reporters.
JEFFREY TOOBIN, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Correct. Although Donald Trump Jr. may have a problem because he under oath to congressional committee said he did not discuss this with his father in advance. So if Michael Cohen is telling the truth, Donald Trump Jr. may have a problem.
But it's also important to remember why this issue is important. This isn't just some random meeting. This is a meeting between the representatives of the Russian government giving dirt, so the Trump campaign thought, to the leaders of the Trump campaign. So every time the president says there was no collusion, I had nothing to do with any Russians, this meeting, if in fact he knew about it at the time, shows that all of those statements, every time he said no collusion, is a lie.
So, it's not just sort of a random lie about the size of the inauguration crowd. It's lying about his involvement with the Russian government in the campaign.
COOPER: And, Carl, if a meeting was squeaky clean with nothing improper, why have there been so many iterations to, you know, to who is there, who knew about it, what exactly took place, what the whole purpose of it was?
CARL BERNSTEIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Let's be clear about this meeting. This meeting was convened for the purposes of colluding. That was the invitation that was extended to Donald Trump Jr. by Mr. Goldstone on behalf of Russian representatives to bring dirt to a meeting about Hillary Clinton at the behest of the Russian government. It said in the letter of introduction, as it were.
So this meeting is unique. It is hugely important, and thus far, from the moment we have learned about it, absolutely every aspect of it has been attempted to be covered up by Donald Trump and those around him. He has been truthful about nothing having to do with this meeting. Why? Because, indeed, it's indicative of collusion.
Now, is this the one time perhaps now that Mr. Cohen has said this that Donald Trump is telling the truth about this meeting and that he did not know of it in advance where he has lied about every other aspect of it almost? It's possible, I suppose. But you and others have run through the chronology of what occurred and what he said three days after the invitation was extended and his son knew about it.
BERNSTEIN: It's very strange, all these coincidences. And it's going to get sorted out. And I think that's one of the reasons we're seeing Donald Trump, according to people around him in the White House, acting so desperately and unhinged in his fury.
COOPER: Yes. I mean, Maggie, the thing I keep coming back to about this meeting, and probably will repeat this several times tonight is that if we're to be -- if they were to be believed, Donald Trump Jr. is informed that the Kremlin is supporting his father's campaign, and he chooses -- and even if Paul Manafort is in that meeting and Kushner is in that meeting, he chooses not to tell his father either in advance or after the meeting, stunning idea, true or not, that the Kremlin is supporting your campaign.
[20:15:21] I mean, for such a small organization, a small campaign at that point, it's pretty hard to imagine that.
HABERMAN: What I'm not clear -- so there is a couple of things I would say about that. It's not clear to me what -- whether Cohen is going to say or is prepared to say or has told people that Donald Trump Sr. was briefed after this meeting or before this meeting took place. And there is a distinction in and here's why. I could see a world as knowing how people are around Donald Trump and afraid of incurring his wrath or accused of not being competent or any number of things he says to some of his nearest and dearest.
If you go and tell him that actually this thing did not result in anything, I don't know what -- this didn't happen, you are going to get dismissed. So, it's possible that he was not briefed after. The question was whether he was briefed before.
To me, that is the big question mark, and I don't know the answer. I think that generally speaking, in that campaign, people did not do things without Donald Trump knowing. Not everything, but most times.
TOOBIN: But there is another very important fact that plays into what people knew when, which is Donald Trump's announcement that he's going give a big speech about Hillary Clinton's misdeeds involving Russia, among other countries. He gives that announcement of the speech when in the lead-up to this meeting.
TOOBIN: The meeting turns out to be a bust, and Donald Trump never gives this promised speech. How does Donald Trump decide to give big speech on this subject without knowing that the Trump tower meeting is taking place? And how does he decide to cancel the speech without knowing that the meeting is a bust? That's a chronology that's very hard to explain.
COOPER: And certainly, Carl, I mean, what we have seen of this president is he's not great about keeping some of his cards close to the chest. He does like to promo something. He does like to promote something in advance. You know, watch for some big things, revelation coming up or big news on a summit or whatever it may be.
To Jeff's point, it's entirely possible that he knew about this meeting and decided to kind of give a little promo.
BERNSTEIN: Well, that's what it certainly would look like and appears a perfectly reasonable assumption from what he said. Let me add one more piece of information that I learned in the last few days, not from any source connected to Cohen or Cohen's attorneys, but this is that there was a weekly family meeting convened by Donald Trump at which he presided over through the whole campaign at which almost everything from what I gather of importance in the campaign was discussed.
Now whether or not the meeting Mr. Cohen is referring to, assuming that it existed in the way he is talking about it is a family meeting, I don't know. But there is a part of the whole campaign process in which the family was fully briefed and interacted with one another on all the major happenings in the campaign. Perhaps Donald Trump kept some things from his children. That's possible, and from his son-in- law and vice versa. I suppose that's possible too.
But we now have a picture of the family involvement around this one meeting that's starting to coalesce in a way that is very distressing --
BERNSTEIN: -- to Donald Trump's legal team and the people around him.
HABERMAN: Donald Trump Sr. did not attend those meetings. It was always the children.
COOPER: The children just meeting with each other?
HABERMAN: Correct. And with some of the campaign --
BERNSTEIN: You mean the family meeting?
HABERMAN: Correct. That's an important distinction.
HABERMAN: So, if we're talking about the history of the campaign, that is how that --
COOPER: But it was a regular family meeting of just the kids?
HABERMAN: Just the kids and sometimes some campaign aides.
TOOBIN: I think it's also worth mentioning another part of Carl's story that he wrote with Jim Sciutto yesterday on CNN.com. According to Cohen, there are other people present at the meeting where he found out that Donald Trump Sr. knew about the Trump Tower meeting. Their testimony may be more important than anyone else's, because maybe their credibility is better than Donald Trump's or Michael Cohen's. Corroboration is always indispensable when it comes to these swearing
contests. You know, are there e-mails? Are there texts? Are there tapes or other witnesses who can confirm or refute what Michael Cohen says about this meeting? That may be more important than Cohen's testimony itself, because his credibility is so damaged.
COOPER: Just a point, Maggie, I mean, there are a lot of wins for the president, for his administration just this week. North Korea returning what seemed to be -- has to be confirmed, remains of U.S. service members, certainly economic numbers on GDP growth, all things are good for him.
[20:20:12] But also this week, the CFO of the Trump Organization --
COOPER: -- is subpoenaed and this tape emerged which seems to prove that the president lied about his knowledge about Karen McDougal's lie.
HABERMAN: Look, every time, there's two things going on. One is that the White House cannot tell a consistent story about -- not just about these issues, but about their own accomplishments.
So that is one thing because the president will then tweet something like he did this morning. It's like he's somebody who says these not these are distractions and I don't want to talk about this, the way we've seen other politicians do. But I -- we have not talked about the Allen Weisselberg appearance before the grand jury that is pending, and this is related to the Cohen case in the Southern District of New York, and that is a huge deal.
COOPER: Because he knows everything?
HABERMAN: Everything. He is synonymous with Trump's money. So, if you are looking at trying to unravel things that could be problematic for Donald Trump over decades, this is not just over the last year.
COOPER: He was working for Donald Trump's father?
HABERMAN: He worked for Donald Trump's father. He was involved in the Trump Foundation. He is involved in the Trump Organization. He is involved in Trump's personal trust, the money that was moved over after he became president.
And he reviewed the campaign's books at various points. He literally knows everything. I feel like that was the -- that is getting overshadowed about this talk about what Cohen may or may not say. And in reality, the Allen Weisselberg call to a grand jury is an enormous deal.
COOPER: Maggie Haberman, Carl Bernstein, Jeff Toobin, thanks very much.
Just ahead, how these developments point to the larger strategic question of Russian influence in American politics and policy, Lieutenant Colonel Ralph Peters will have plenty to say about that when we come back.
And later, two attorneys, each with skin in the game, clash. Michael Avenatti and Alan Dershowitz tonight on 360.
[20:26:11] COOPER: No question that President Trump has a documented history of exaggeration, embellishment, even lies. And the president's private attorney, Rudy Giuliani, says now Michael Cohen has a history of lying as well, despite he is reported as saying the opposite a few months ago. So, the question, of course, tonight, who to believe?
Let's ask author, and retired Army Lieutenant Colonel Ralph Peters.
Colonel Peters, as a former intelligence officer, I imagine you've had plenty of experience with lies and deception and trying to figure it out. Given that both the president and Michael Cohen have, shall we say, a complicated relationship with the truth, who do you believe here?
LT. COL. RALPH PETERS (RET.), U.S. ARMY: In this specific case, it sounds like Michael Cohen is the more honest of the two because he claims that other people were at the meeting where Trump was told in advance about the meeting with the Russians. And if he can name the other people and they're compelled to testify and they corroborate his story, well, then you've got an interesting case.
But, Anderson, even beyond the he said, she said, or he said-he said, think about it. Can you imagine if Donald Trump Jr. or any member of Trump's family had scheduled a meeting in Trump tower with Russian representatives to get dirt about Hillary Clinton, invite other senior Trump staff members and didn't tell daddy? I mean Trump would have exploded. You would have heard it from the Bronx to Beverly Hills. It's just not the way the world works.
But Donald Trump, as incompetent as he may be at other things, from business to strategy, he is a genius at PR and propaganda. And what Trump understands and what so many of us fail to understand is that the truth barely has a chance against a lie that people want to believe. And during his campaign and right up to this day, and I'm sure in the future, Trump has and will tell lies that people want to believe. Just today I had an exchange with a Trump supporter, an educated man who spent much of his life working against the Russians, and it is impossible to reason with him. He is immune to evidence.
COOPER: Well, it's interesting. It's not just a lie, it's a lie repeated over and over and over and over again. You know, it becomes almost a brand name sometimes, some of these lies or these tag lines. And it's hard to fight against.
PETERS: Absolutely. First of all, when you have a plethora, a flood of lies, it does obscure the truth. You can suffocate the truth with lies. But also, again, repetition is very, very important. Any propagandist throughout history has recognized that.
And Trump -- you know, our intelligentsia may mock his repetition of deep state, witch-hunt, crooked Hillary, take your pick.
COOPER: Fake news, that sort of thing.
PETERS: Yes, fake news, certainly. Fake news.
But those simple binary combinations are easy to remember. Two-word combinations, most of them monosyllabic words. They have incredible staying power. They're like awful commercial jingles that you hate, but you go in the store and you look at which of the thousands of rolls of toilet paper do I buy and that jingle sticks in your head.
Trump insinuates into your head.
COOPER: The other thing that strikes me with that meeting is in Donald Trump is informed that Russia wants the candidate -- wants Donald Trump to win, I just -- it just defies logic that Donald Trump Jr. would not say something to his own father --
COOPER: -- hey, you know what? I don't know if this is true or not, but we're being told that Russia actually wants you to win. I mean, that's a stunning thing for any candidate.
PETERS: Yes. And Donald Trump wants to be in the loop. His specialty actually has been keeping other people out of the loop, letting them only slightly. But he wants to be the master of information. So, again, it is utterly inconceivable to me that any member of Trump's family would have scheduled, or any of his staff would have scheduled such a meeting without getting -- not just telling him, but getting his blessing. You don't just roll on your own on stuff like this.
COOPER: Just lastly, Putin today said he's invited President Trump to Moscow, which the White House says they're open to. And Putin also said he is ready to come to Washington, praised the president for fulfilling his campaign promises. I'm wondering what you make of this latest exchange here.
PETERS: Well, perhaps President Trump can visit some old girlfriends. But it's, look, Putin doesn't want to come here because he knows it would be a spectacle. There is so much anger toward him and Russia. But by inviting Trump to Moscow, he can lay on all the military parades that Trump loves. He can give him literally the czarist royal treatment. And so I think it's a smart move on Putin's point.
And there is so much else involved in all this. But go back to something I said at the start of the show. The big lie repeated over and over again, the lie that people want to believe can beat the truth. And, you know, "The Washington Post" now on its mast head, it has a phrase, "Democracy dies in darkness." That's not to really true. Democracy dies in broad daylight if good citizens do nothing. And too many of us are doing nothing in the age of Trump.
COOPER: Colonel Peters, I appreciate your time. Thank you.
PETERS: Thank you.
COOPER: Well, as the weekends, one of the biggest story lines of course has been the very public separation between the president and his once fixer, his personal attorney Michael Cohen. Coming up, I'll talk with Michael Avenatti and Professor Alan Dershowitz about who they believe maybe telling the truth amidst all the fire and fury, so to speak.
[20:35:38] COOPER: The release of that audio-tape between Donald Trump and his one-time personal lawyer Michael Cohen and CNN'S reporting from sources who say Cohen is claiming the president knew of the Trump Tower meeting has thrown the president's former fixer back squarely into the spotlight for what me may or may not say to Robert Mueller but also how he's treated his one-time client Donald Trump. It's a subject of much debate.
We'll take them now between two attorneys who are no stranger to the spotlight themselves in this story, Michael Avenatti, Stormy Daniels' attorney and Alan Dershowitz, who as emerged as one of the president's defenders at times. He is the author of the best-selling new book "The Case Against Impeaching Trump."
Michael, in the past you've called Michael Cohen, "An absolute criminal thug." You've called him a co-conspirator. You're obviously on ongoing legal battle with him on the ongoing Stormy Daniels case. In terms of this reporting and these claims about the president's knowledge of the Trump Tower meeting, do you think he is telling the truth here?
MICHEAL AVENATTI, STORMY DANIELS' ATTORNEY: Well, it's a good question, Anderson. I don't know if he's telling the truth. I think he likely is telling the truth, but the guy has been all over the map for so many months and years that I think that as a witness, certainly there's questions as to his credibility.
COOPER: Professor Dershowitz, if the reporting turns out to be true, and there's big if, and the president did know about the meeting, there were other president to corroborate Cohen's story, isn't that a major problem or is that a major problem for the president and Donald Trump Jr., who between the two of them have denied the president's knowledge of the meeting nine times.
ALAN DERSHOWITZ. PROFESSOR EMERITUS, HARVARD LAW SCHOOL: Oh, it's a political problem to be sure, but i don't think it's a legal problem. Even if the president knew of the meeting, knew exactly the role of the woman who was there that she was representing the Russian government, and even knew that they were going to go to try to collect dirt that had already been gotten by the Russians on Hillary Clinton, that would be a political sin, but it wouldn't be a federal crime.
And i think if this is the best that Cohen has to offer, I don't think he's going to be given immunity by the federal prosecutors. He may have to compose and not only sing in order to get that kind of meeting because this isn't very much from a legal point of view. It's a big deal from a political and public relations point of view, but legally it's a 3 on a scale of 10 maybe.
COOPER: Well, I mean what's also interesting about Cohen's story on this, and again, if it turns out to be true, he claims that there are other people present who heard that as well. So if they're under oath, you know, I guess they could back up what Cohen has to say if in fact that is true.
DERSHOWITZ: And if it turns out there are no other people --
DERSHOWITZ: -- that will affect his credibility as well.
DERSHOWITZ: But I think the big picture is that even if everything he says is true, it's not a crime. You know, in my new book, "The Case Against Impeaching Trump," I set out a hypothetical based on this possibility, a hypothetical. Even if the president actively sought material dirt on Hillary Clinton, terrible thing, but even if he sought it, but the dirt had already been gathered, and he wasn't asking them to hack the DNC or do anything criminal, that would not be a crime. It would show, "perhaps collusion." But there's nothing in the federal code that makes collusion itself a crime.
COOPER: Well, Professor, I mean about those tapes, you tweeted yesterday, "I didn't say Michael Avenatti was wrong, but that if he's right, how did he access that confidential information, talking about there being more tapes. He implied there were more Trump tapes. Guilliani says there's only one with Trump's voice. Let's see whose right." Do you stand by that?
DERSHOWITZ: Well, I don't want to get personal at all. But I think it's hard to imagine how he could have lawfully gotten a whole of those tapes. He did, according to press reports, have a conversation with Mr. Cohen at a restaurant, and that raises some questions because, you know, you're not allowed to speak to somebody whose counseled, who has a lawyer and ask him do you want to work together to hurt Trump. So I'm -- I don't know whether that occurred. But if it did occur, i think Michael has to do some explaining.
AVENATTI: Well, Alan, let me say this. You keep saying you don't want to get personal with me, and you keep getting personal with me, including on Fox the other night.
AVENATTI: Well, no, I'm going to tell you, i don't appreciate it. I'm willing to put up my track record over the last six months in this case up against yours in day of the week. I have been very, very accurate in my predictions, in the statements that I've made, and the facts. And the fact of the matter is on Sunday, you expressed considerable doubt as to whether I knew what I was talking about, and within 48 hours, I was -- no, let me finish -- within 48 hours I was proven right.
[20:40:02] DERSHOWITZ: I said it was true. I said it was true what you're talking about and that's why it needs some explanation. You did guarantee the American public back in May that President Trump would resign. We're watching our watches and waiting to see if that prediction comes true. That's the one prediction that you really staked your reputation on. So your reputation will turn on whether he does resign or not.
AVENATTI: Well, Alan, let me tell you. I'm going to determine what my reputation turns on, not you. I've made many predictions that will have been --
DERSHOWITZ: And I will too.
AVENATTI: Let me finish. I've made many predictions that have turned out to be true. And we got two years left in this president's term. And despite the fact that he thinks you write great book, we're going to see what really happen.
COOPER: But, Michael, I want to read you something that you tweeted back to the president on Monday. You said, "I'm awaiting an apology from Alan Dershowitz and others who once again were proven wrong. I stated in late May during the pressure, there were multiple recordings and that was confirmed today. Unlike others including Mr. Trump, I don't make public statements that are false."
You -- because "The Washington Post" did report there are about 100 recordings. We don't know the full nature of those recordings.
AVENATTI: Well, back on May, I think it was 29th, Anderson, I stood in front of the federal courthouse and I demanded the release of all of the Trump tapes and I stated at the time there were multiple recordings. And now, we know that there indeed over 100 recordings that have been seized.
And I also want to go back to something that was said earlier. This information on the Trump Tower meeting, that's not the best information Michael Cohen has. I can assure you of that.
DERSHOWITZ: How do you know that?
COOPER: How do you know that? That was my question? How can you assure us?
AVENATTI: Again, I'm not going to tell you how I know these things. But you know, what, Alan, if you --
DERSHOWITZ: Well, you may have just tell the Ethics Committee then.
AVENATTI: Alan, you know --
DERSHOWITZ: You can tell that to the Ethics Committee --
AVENATTI: Alan -- DERSHOWITZ: -- if they ask you how you had a conversation with the
man who is represented by a lawyer. And you didn't ask his lawyers permission and his lawyer is now apparently complaining about that. So you're going to have to answer somebody's questions. It's not enough just for you to say selectively I don't have to answer that question, but I will answer that question. Let's not get personal. But let's understand that you have to have the truth. Yes.
AVENATTI: Alan, Alan.
COOPER: Michael, I want your response
AVENATTI: Alan, you really need to start talking only about things that you know about, as opposed to things that you have no knowledge about. You have no knowledge of the communications that went on between me and Michael Cohen's representatives long before that -- long before that -- no, you don't know what you're talk about, Alan, long before that restaurant meeting. You have no idea about the communications that went on relating to a particular or proposed level of cooperation. You just make it up as you go along. You need to go back --
DERSHOWITZ: So let me ask you this particular question.
AVENATTI: You need to go back. Let him finish. No.
COOPER: Let him finish.
AVENATTI: No, you need to go back -- you need to go back and concentrate on what invites you're getting on Martha's Vineyard since that appears to be what you're really good at.
DERSHOWITZ: Well, I'm about to head off to a party. So I have to leave in a minute.
AVENATTI: Good luck to that.
DERSHOWITZ: But let me tell you, if -- are you saying specifically that you were given permission by Michael Cohen's lawyer to have that conversation with him in the restaurant? That's a question you should answer specifically, because if you weren't given permission to have that conversation with Michael Cohen, you may have to answer to an Ethics Committee about that conversation, because I taught legal ethics for 35 years. And I know a lot about legal ethics.
And the one thing I know is you're not allowed to have a conversation with somebody who's counseled without the specific approval of the client to have that -- a lawyer to have that conversations. I think you have to explain that meeting.
AVENATTI: Alan, Alan, guess who gave me permission? Michael Cohen. He gave me permission. So once again --
DERSHOWITZ: That's not enough. That's not enough.
AVENATTI: No, it is. Alan Alan, once again. DERSHOWITZ: That's not enough under the rules of ethics.
AVENATTI: Alan, Alan, Alan.
DERSHOWITZ: No, no, you won't
COOPER: Let him answer.
AVENATTI: Alan, Alan, Alan, once again --
AVENATTI: -- you don't know what you're talking about. You know what I want to know? I want to know about the relationship between you and Donald Trump. I think you ought to disclose the extent of the relationship. How did you get that positive boo --
DERSHOWITZ: Of course, I'm happy to do it.
AVENATTI: How did you get that positive book review? Why is that it you two --
DERSHOWITZ: Happy to disclose it.
AVENATTI: Why is that you two appear to be such close friends now? And I think you ought to disclose what your relationship is?
DERSHOWITZ: I've met him three times in my life. All three times dealing with the Middle East. I have no relationship with him. But I have to tell you, I do know legal ethics. And getting permission from a counseled client --
AVENATTI: You're wrong. You're wrong.
DERSHOWITZ: -- to talk to that client is not enough. Well, I can tell you I've been teaching legal ethics for a long time. About that, I am 100 percent.
COOPER: Michael, let me just ask you last, I want to ask you about the three additional women you say you're representing. You said they're also paid hush money. Can you tell us any more when that hush money was allegedly paid or anything else about the alleged relationships and any proof that they happened?
AVENATTI: In 2015 and 2016, and I find it very interesting that we haven't seen a denial from Donald Trump or Michael Cohen all day. I would think that if I was wrong, we would have seen a denial. And, Alan, I feel sorry for the students that you taught legal ethics too by the way, because you didn't teach them the truth.
DERSHOWITZ: Well, they've become justices of the Supreme Court, judges.
AVENATTI: I'm sure.
DERSHOWITZ: Some of the most important people in America. AVENATTI: I'm sure they're very proud.
DERSHOWITZ: I stand by my record of teaching legal ethics for a long, long time.
AVENATTI: I'm sure they're very proud.
[20:45:03] DERSHOWITZ: I wish you had been in my -- if you had been in my class, you would not have had that conversation with Michael Cohen.
COOPER: All right.
AVENATTI: Alan, I'm sure they're very proud. I'm sure they're very proud of your conduct over the last two years, I'm sure.
COOPER: Michael Avenatti, Professor Dershowitz, thank you very much. I appreciate it.
DERSHOWITZ: Thank you.
COOPER: Up next, the worst best week at the White House. The president on the defensive, his White House gripped by one bombshell after another in the multiple investigations against him. Also, a triumphant president taking credit for new strong economic numbers. More on that ahead.
COOPER: Oh what a strange day it's likely have been for the president. This morning, he was touting the state of the economy, new numbers out showing. It's growing the fastest pace in four years, up 4.1 percent in the second quarter.
Also, this morning, the president was angry pushing back on all the things related to Michael Cohen, his former fixer. The two now are in an all-out war, as you know, as we've been reporting tonight. It's a tale of two White Houses. It mixed with the good and the bad. Here to talk about it, CNN political commentator, Van Jones, host of "THE VAN JONES SHOW," also Jason Miller, former adviser to the Trump campaign.
Van, I mean isn't the president overdue for some credit for these economic numbers?
VAN JONES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Look, absolutely. I've said many times Obama got us moving in the right direction.
[20:50:05] Trump said we're moving in the wrong direction. He lied. That wasn't true. We're going in the right direction. But the liberals said that Trump was going to screw it up. The Obama numbers have gone in a straight line, sort of unemployment coming down. A good pass-off to Trump, both parties should be happy about it. The problem is even though the economy is coming up, the society is coming apart, and the president is driving that level of division. And I think that's where, you know, you've got to continue to hold him accountable.
COOPER: Jason, I know that you would make the argument as well that the president isn't getting the credit he deserves on the economy. I'm wondering how much responsibility he bears for that, you know, if every tweet about a witch-hunt or a hoax were replaced by a tweet about the economy, wouldn't that -- wouldn't he be better served by that just terms of focused message?
JASON MILLER, FORMER SENIOR COMMUNICATIONS ADVISER, TRUMP CAMPAIGN: Well, absolutely. I think the White House does bear some of the responsibility for some of the messaging that comes out, and it's their -- they obviously do have a big part of the say in what comes -- what they're talking about each day. And they can either talk about the economy, they can talk about the successes that they're pushing or they can talk about the distraction.
But I think there is this cloud. I think that many of the detractors want to have over the White House. I call it, in a sense, the Jan Brady Syndrome where many of the detractors, every time President Trump does anything good, they want to say Russia, Russia, Russia.
In fact, I was watching Twitter this morning when the president was having his press conference, and I was shocked, really shocked, the number of journalists and even news outlets, folks who I really respect and have a great deal of admiration for, while the president is up at the podium talking about the growth numbers, as you talked about, the best GDP numbers we've had in four years, that we're just actively hitting the president on Russia and Cohen and Mueller. And the president literally couldn't even get through that press conference with folks hitting him.
And again, I'm not saying that the president and the White House are immune from criticism. I'm not saying that they don't have days where they create some of the headaches for themselves. But it shocks me every time I see this where they literally won't let the president get up off the mat.
COOPER: Is part of the problem, though, Jason, they've only had three White House briefings in the last month, and, you know, this tape has come out and which shows that the president lied and the campaign lied about knowing about the deal with AMI and Karen McDougal, and they've not said anything about it on the record?
MILLER: Well, I think to the point about the press briefings, I mean, the president is very accessible. I had said when I was on the other night that I think he's one of the most open presidents that we've ever had in the White House, whether it be the Cabinet meetings or the different press briefings that he has when he brings folks in, obviously the one on Wednesday got a little bit off the rails. I think that's probably an understatement and that's --
COOPER: You can't say he's open when they kick out the pool reporter.
MILLER: -- the trade deal.
(CROSSTALK) JONES: Man, I man, how can you say the most open? He threw out one of our colleagues because she did her job. And the other problem I think that we've got to be able to face straight ahead is that when you have openness when you want to have it, that's not transparency. It's when you're able to stand up and take tough questions and be available. And you can't then say, listen, I want to be able to have a happy press conference about my happy topics and I'm going to be upset and throw a fit like a toddler because somebody asked me a hard question. That's what we're dealing with.
I do want to say one more thing though. I'm surprised though that conservatives are not more upset with what's going on in the economy. I remember when President Obama was in office because of deficits, we had the Tea Party marching all across the country. We now have massive deficits under Trump and no complaints at all. The conservatives attacked Obama for bailing out the auto industry.
Now you have Trump bailing out of American farmers, basically, taking farmers and moving them from work to welfare because of his trade war, and not as a peep. So, yes, there's good economic performance, but it's based on massive deficit spending, which conservatives won't check, and a trade war which makes no sense and bailouts which conservatives won't criticize. So there is something going on in the economy that I'm surprised. You're talking about being shocked. I'm shocked. I don't hear people like you having more fidelity to your own conservative principles.
COOPER: Jason, what about that?
MILLER: Yes, Van, we're looking on unemployment numbers that are at a 50-year low. We're seeing a trade deficit, it's been reduced by $50 billion over this past quarter. You and I both know that the federal debt doubled under President Obama, that we --
JONES: Because we had a huge recession.
MILLER: -- we're hitting on growth if we're ever going to --
MILLER: But, again, but we had the slowest growth. We had the slowest recovery since --
MILLER: And it was a slow recovery. So, Van, what we needed is to go and jumpstart this economy and go get it moving. And I think that's what President Trump has done. And if we go back to the election of 2016, right after that election, you know as well as I do that every corporate leader in America thought that Hillary Clinton was going to win.
[20:55:07] And so -- and they were essentially thinking there were going to be higher taxes and higher regulation as a result of that. So when President Trump won, they're almost playing with House money. They started investing in their companies, investing back in the economy. That started this rocket ship of growth. Then we got deregulation in 2017. We got this big tax cut. Now we're going into the trade deals and fighting for American jobs.
I mean, this, Van, this economy is a rocket ship, and now we're going to go in and take on China, which is really the biggest economic competition over the next 50 years this. I mean, this is the big thing.
JONES: Hey listen. Listen, all that sounds great. A very nice story. Here's the reality. The reality is all the numbers you're talking about were moving in the right direction under Obama, and you guys said we were in hell. The numbers continue to move in the same direction at a slower pace, and now we're in heaven. That's because you read bedtime stories to your kids and think it's real life. In real life, both presidents deserve more credit than they get.
COOPER: All right. Jason Miller, Van Jones, thank you.
MILLER: Van, you sound like Jan Brady.
COOPER: A programming note, don't miss "THE VAN JONES SHOW" tomorrow night, 7:00 p.m. Eastern here on CNN. He'll talk to NBA star Carmelo Anthony. Van also takes on the progressive movement. Also a reminder, join us Monday for our daily interactive newscast on Facebook. You can watch full circle, weeknights at 6:25 p.m. Eastern. Go to facebook.com/andersoncooperfullcircle. I'll see you there Monday.
And "360" continues tonight. Up next, the shifting explanations about the meeting at Trump Tower, how we got to this point. What the president is saying now about all of this.