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AT THIS HOUR

Trump's Differing Responses to Cohen & Manafort; Cohen Attorney: Clint Won't Accept Trump Pardon; Trump Refers to Cohen as "The Rat"; Is Trump's Sympathy for Manafort a Sign of a Possible Pardon; GOP Leaders Silent After Cohen Plea, Manafort Verdict. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired August 22, 2018 - 11:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[11:00:00] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you so much for being with me on this busy, busy morning. I'll see you back here tomorrow morning. I'm Poppy Harlow, in New York.

"AT THIS HOUR" starts now.

ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR; Hello. I'm Erica Hill, in for Kate Bolduan.

President Trump offering two very different responses this morning to two very big stories. Attacking his former lawyer and fixer, Michael Cohen. Remember, this is the man who once said he would take a bullet for the president. But is now the man implicating Mr. Trump as part of his guilty plea on eight criminal counts.

The president, meantime, defending the former chairman of the Trump presidential campaign, Paul Manafort, who was found guilty on eight counts of tax and banking fraud. President Trump tweeting this morning, "I feel very badly for Paul Manafort and his wonderful family. Justice took a 12-year-old tax case, among other things, applied tremendous pressure on him." And, unlike Michael Cohen, the president writes, "He refused to break, make up stories in order to get a, quote, 'deal.'"

All of this comes as Cohen's attorney this morning said his client may not be done talking.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LANNY DAVIS, ATTORNEY TO MICHAEL COHEN: It is my observation that Mr. Cohen has knowledge that would be of interest to the special counsel about the issue of whether Donald Trump, ahead of time, knew about the hacking of e-mails, which is a computer crime that was the subject of the indictment of the 12 Russians. We'll just have to see what Mr. Cohen is able to say from direct knowledge when and if he discusses this with the special counsel.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HILL: CNN's Kara Scannell is with us to break it down, all things Cohen.

Kara, what's next? KARA SCANNELL, CNN REPORTER: The next official thing is Michael Cohen

will be sentenced on December 12th. That's the date that the judge set yesterday after he incurred his guilty plea on those eight counts. We just heard from Lanny Davis. He's making these claims that con has additional information, so the big question here is what is that information, do we see Cohen arrive to meet with the special counsel in Washington, D.C., and where does it go from here? At this point that is unclear.

But the one thing that's for sure is that Cohen will be sentenced on December 12th unless there's some unusual or new development with the special counsel that would give them some pause to tell the judge that they want more time before Cohen is sentenced. But at this stage, Cohen's deal with the U.S. attorney's office in Manhattan is just with that office so he'll be sentenced in about four months -- Erica?

HILL: Lanny Davis, Michael Cohen's attorneys, has made claims there's an incriminating letter in which the Trump legal team acknowledges that payment of the hush money, the directive is what he was talking about. Where does that stand? There were some questions about the letter.

SCANNELL: There were some questions about the letter. No one could seem to pinpoint what that letter was. Our John Berman spoke with Lanny Davis and Lanny Davis clarified this saying he had made a mistake, he had confused both Cohen's statements from yesterday, where he said that he was directed by Trump, and he also confused it with Donald Trump's financial disclosure forms, where they acknowledge in those forms in May that they reimbursed Cohen for some of these campaign finance payments.

# Kara Scannell with the latest for us.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Would Michael Cohen seek a pardon from the president of the United States for any of this?

DAVIS: The answer is definitively no, under no circumstances since he came to the judgment after Mr. Trump's election to the president of the United States, that his suitability is a serious risk to our country. And certainly after Helsinki, creates serious questions about his loyalty to our country. His answer would be, no, I do not want a pardon from this man.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCANNELL: Erica, there you have that Michael Cohen's lawyer saying that he does not want a pardon. That's one of the big questions that's out there, that remains, is Cohen doing this -- they are making clear that's not what's motivating Cohen. He's previously said what's motivating him is his country and his family -- Erica?

HILL: Kara, thank you.

Meantime, sources tell CNN the president was fuming over the news of Cohen's plea deal, referring to his one-time fixer as "the rat."

CNN's Ryan Nobles is at the White House with more reaction from the president and from the White House.

Ryan, what more are we hearing?

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Erica, it took a little while for the White House to react to this news of Michael Cohen's guilty plea but it is clear they have a strategy in the works and that is to discredit the president's former lawyer, a person who worked for Donald Trump for a very long time. Today, on Twitter the president warning folks not to go into business with Michael Cohen. He tweeted out this morning, "If anyone is in search of a lawyer, I highly recommend that you don't retain Michael Cohen." The services of Michael Cohen, he said.

This is part of a longer strategy by this White House and the president in particular. They believe that Cohen is not a strong character witness on behalf of anybody accusing Donald Trump of doing anything and that he's already lied to authorities so there's no reason to believe him when it comes to anything else having to do with this investigation.

[11:05:07] But we should point out, Erica, that the staff at the White House was shocked and stunned by exactly what happened yesterday. In fact, Sarah Sanders, the White House press secretary, dodging questions on this yesterday as well. Sources that we talked to behind the scenes said that the results of those legal proceedings yesterday sounded terrible for the president and that it was a bad day for the home team.

Right now, the White House back in the defensive posture but it is clear, President Trump is prepared to fight back. And this could all track back to what happens in the mid-term elections. The president ready to hit the road in support of Republican candidates because it could come down to who controls Congress as to what decides the president's fate -- Erica?

HILL: That is so true.

Ryan Nobles, appreciate it. Ryan, thank you.

We'll continue our discussion. Joining me, Larry Noble, a former general counsel to the General Election Council and CNN contributor, and Page Pate, criminal defense attorney and CNN legal analyst.

Larry, I want to start with you.

I want run by you this tweet we saw earlier today from the president, I'll read to you here: "Michael Cohen pled guilty to two counts of campaign finance violations that are not a crime. President Obama had a big campaign finance violation and it was easily settled."

What do you make of that?

LARRY NOBLE, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, that's nonsense. First of all, he pled guilty to two campaign violations that are a crime. They are violation of the criminal law so they are a crime. Comparing it to the Obama settlement is also not fair, accurate and makes no sense. Virtually every presidential campaign -- or probably every major presidential campaign comes up with campaign finance violations. They are what we used to call routine violations. They aren't excused but they are reporting violations where they failed to report some things inadvertently. I think in the Obama case it was what are called 48- hour report, failure to report contributions. In none of those cases that I'm aware of has the actual candidate or the president been implicated in ordering it be done. It wasn't that Obama said let's not report these contributions. Those are kind of the more -- the regular violations that you see in presidential campaigns.

Here we have an allegation that the president directly ordered Cohen to pay money to prevent people from talking about alleged affairs. That's a potential violation on several counts. One, people talk about the reporting violation. These were contributions that weren't reported. That's true. But, they were paid by the Trump Organization. That makes it a corporate contribution. It is illegal to make a corporate contribution. It is also illegal for an officer of a corporation to authorize a corporate contribution, which sounds like what Trump may have done. Trump is also the candidate. It is illegal for the candidate to accept is the corporate contribution. There were also excessive contributions from Cohen. Same thing applies. It was illegal to accept those contributions by the candidate. So this is very unusual in that we have the candidate being implicated in directly coordinating and directing the actual violations of law. That's not what we've seen before.

HILL: So you don't agree obviously with the president because you laid out that very well.

When it comes to Michael Cohen though, Page, how credible is Michael Cohen at this point?

PAGE PATE, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, Erica, I think obviously that's the strongest argument that the White House has is, look, this guy's clearly not been truthful with the American people. He's committed felony crimes that he's now pled guilty to so how can you believe what he is saying about me. That's especially true when we hear his lawyer saying, look, he's ready to talk more, he feels somehow betrayed by the president. So I think it is certainly from the president's standpoint the right move to attack his credibility.

I agree with Larry that what's been alleged here are certainly criminal acts but they don't have to be. I mean these particular statutes also allow for civil punishment -- fines and things of that nature -- which you don't see in, say, a bank fraud statute or something like that. So there's discretion where a prosecutor can decide not to pursue this as a criminal indictment or criminal information and leave it as a civil fine.

HILL: Larry, it's also important to point out here that this could ultimately be handled very differently if the president were not the president today. NOBLE: Right. If the president were not the president today, then

there would not be this question about whether he could be indicted. It's clear that if he had not won he would have been indicted for these things. I think it is also true these can be prosecuted by the FEC as a civil violation. The difference is when they become a knowing and willful violation and core violation of the law, then they can be prosecuted as a criminal violation. That's what's going to be alleged here.

One other point I make -- and I agree that Michael Cohen has credibility issues. But it is somewhat ironic that the president, who is known to regularly lie about things, has serious credibility issues, and in fact lied about this very thing. First said he had no knowledge of the Stormy Daniels payments, then had to admit, yes, he did know about the Stormy Daniels payments, is attacking the credibility of Michael Cohen, I think there are credibility issues on all sides.

[11:10:12] HILL: There are questions about what else can be said here. Lanny Davis said directly this morning Michael Cohen may have more things he wants to talk to the special counsel about. That does not include cooperation in this plea deal. When you hear those words from Lanny Davis is it in some ways a public push on his part to come up with a separate deal perhaps with the special counsel?

PATE: That's certainly possible, Erica. But it is a strange legal strategy. If he really has good, solid information that the special counsel's going to be interested in, then set up a proffer meeting. Set up a time for Michael Cohen to sit down with the investigators, with the prosecutors, from Bob Mueller's office and tell him, this is what I have. Or even the lawyer can do that. Lanny can sit down with those folks and say, let me give you an attorney proffer. I'm going to tell you what my client would say. Instead of doing it in the news media. Because as we've seen, the special counsel's office is really not inclined to use the media as part of their investigation. So from a legal strategy, I think you would be doing that behind closed doors and not in front of the camera.

HILL: It's fascinating, too, Larry. I know that you said this plea deal itself could form the basis for impeachment proceedings. Not as many people are jumping on that impeachment bandwagon. But you think it is OK to go there.

NOBLE: Well, look, I think it has to be discussed. If there's serious evidence the president committed a felony, then I think impeachment is one of the things that's on the table. As a practical matter, is it going to happen in this Congress? Very doubtful. But I think it is something that has to be talked about. We talked about whether or not a sitting president can be indicted. There's the Office of Legal Counsel's opinion that he can't be. That's not settled law. But if you aren't going to be able to indict a sitting president, and if you're not going to talk about impeachment, that means he's above the law, and that's just something that's hard to accept in a democracy, that the president is above the law, and he can do what he wants. HILL: Page, none of us can ignore the fact that it has all become so

political. As one of you just pointed out, we aren't hearing anything from the Mueller camp on this. But it is what we are hearing from other folks who are either directly or indirectly involved who are really trying to paint this investigation in whichever way is most favorable to them. Looking at it from that political standpoint, no matter what's in that report, in some ways are we kind of past the point of no return, Page?

PATE: I think so, Erica. That really to me is the most troubling part of all this. I'm on the front lines in federal criminal courts in red states all the time. And I'm defending people who are charged with federal crimes. Whenever I see bombs thrown by the president, by the White House, at their own Department of Justice, at the special counsel's office, I see the long-term effects that's going to have on the ability of the government to prosecute cases in courts across this country. These credibility issues -- he may be talking about Michael Cohen one day and challenging his credibility, but he's also talking about the rule of law. I'm concerned that the consequences of those actions will last far beyond his presidency.

# Page Pate, Larry Noble, appreciate it. Thank you.

NOBLE: Thank you.

PATE: Thank you.

HILL: Coming up, why is the president defending Paul Manafort in the wake of his convictions? Could this be a signal, a possible pardon, perhaps, for his former campaign chairman?

Plus, Republican leaders in Congress largely silent after Michael Cohen implicates the president in a crime. How long can they dodge the issue?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

[11:18:02] DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I feel badly. I must tell you that Paul Manafort's a good man. He was with Ronald Reagan. He was with lot of different people over the years and I feel very sad about that. Because it doesn't involve me but I still feel it is a very sad the thing that happened. Nothing to do with Russian collusion. This started as Russian collusion. This has absolutely nothing to do with it. This is a witch hunt and it is a disgrace.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HILL: President Trump in West Virginia last night on his way to a rally talking about his former campaign chairman who was found guilty on eight counts, mistrial declared for the other 10 counts he was charged with. Manafort's now facing up to 80 years in prison, plus there's a second criminal trial on additional charges next month. The president's open sympathy for Manafort begging questions about a

possible pardon unless Manafort decides to work with the special counsel in hopes of reducing his sentence.

CNN legal analyst, Paul Callan, joins us now to talk more about this.

First, the 10 counts. We were sitting here yesterday as the jury sent the note saying we can't decide on one count. It led the impression everything was set on the other 17. Eight guilty -- eight counts they found Manafort guilty. The other ten a mistrial. Is eight out of 18 a win?

PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It is a win, because the jail sentence that can be attached to those eight counts is probably as great as if he was convicted on all the counts. I say that because you always hear about these cases. They say he's facing 90 years in prison. That's not really true, because when you apply federal guidelines, it will come down to a much shorter sentence that a judge is likely to impose. Probably around 10 years. Even if he had been convicted on all the counts, the sentence might be the same. So it really is a victory for the prosecution even though they lost 10 counts.

HILL: Even though they lost 10. We know that narrative's already out there. You didn't even get a conviction on half of these, so you know what? What is this sort of sham of an investigation and everything else we are seeing come out of that. Is that a fair point?

[11:20:10] CALLAN: I don't think it necessarily is a fair point. I think the fair point is that watch out for juries and watch out also when you have a president of the United States send is messages to deliberating jurors. Now remember, the president was out making speeches about what a great guy Paul Manafort is, how this investigation is a witch hunt -- or as he now calls it a rigged witch hunt. That word gets around in a jury pool, and you have to wonder, are people thinking this is a political prosecution and, therefore, they're more skeptical than a normal jury would be?

HILL: What's fascinating, we know this jury was not sequestered. When they came back they were asked if they saw or read anything about the case. They said no. But sometimes it is hard to ignore it.

The president's been speaking out. We saw the tweet this morning about Paul Manafort calling him a brave man. Looking at all this, he has this other trial coming up. His tweets, his comments, do you see those at as a message to Paul Manafort?

CALLAN: Oh, yes. I think Manafort is telegraphing that a pardon is coming down the road, sit down, be loyal, don't cooperate with anybody. That's how I read those tweets with the president so actively supporting him. Especially if you just look at the eight counts, I mean, there are really legitimate income tax evasion counts here and other serious counts that were proven by prosecutors. For the president to continue supporting Manafort is really hard to believe. HILL: Anything to -- as we look at what happened in this first trial,

next trial comes up in September in Washington, anything that we can glean in terms of where you think that may go? They have three times as much evidence that they say said they are bringing.

CALLAN: The big thing is the pool is the counties that are as much as 60 percent for Trump. If you get hard core Trump supporters on a jury thinking that this is a political prosecution, he had a better shot in northern Virginia of getting a hung jury on various counts. Washington, D.C., it's like 90 percent of the vote went for Hillary Clinton. So he's not going to get a friendly jury pool in Washington, D.C. That's why Mueller is bringing those charges there. So I think he's got a rough road ahead.

HILL: Paul Callan, always appreciate it, my friend. Thank you.

CALLAN: Nice being with you.

HILL: Coming up, Republican leaders largely silent on the major news about Michael Cohen and Paul Manafort. Something though Democrats don't want to talk about either connected to all of these latest developments. Stay with us for that.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:27:26] HILL: Republican leaders largely silent on the Michael Cohen's bombshell plea implicating President Trump in a crime. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Majority Whip Steve Scalise's response? No comment. Senator John Cornyn says it had nothing to do with Russia or the president. And House Speaker Paul Ryan says he needs more information.

Joining me now, Chris Cillizza, CNN politics reporter and editor-at- large, and Rachael Bade, CNN political analyst and congressional reporter for "Politico."

We should point out as we try to track down lawmakers and get some response from them, either on Capitol Hill or even on their vacations -- because it is kinds of important -- we did just get some sound from Senator Orrin Hatch weighing in. Listen to what he had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. ORRIN HATCH, (R), UTAH: Well, these are serious charges and they can't be ignored.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Do you think this opens up the president to be indicted while sitting in office?

HATCH: No, because I don't think he can be indicted while sitting in office. We'll have to see where this all works out.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HILL: Rachael, can Republican leadership really continue to ignore this? RACHAEL BADE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: They can't continue to ignore

it, no. They're going to have to answer for it of course when they are on Capitol Hill and reporters are pressing them. They're going to be dodgy on this. Republicans agree, when President Donald Trump was elected in 2016 that they were going to plug their noses and basically ignore anything he might say that they find unsavory or sings that things that he doe s that they do not like. There's no reason to think that in just less than three months from a critical mid-term election they're going to dessert the president when they think they actually need him to keep their House and Senate majorities. This really puts them in a pickle because they have a lot of Republicans in swing states, in swing districts, especially in the House, who are going to need to appeal to independent voters, people who perhaps don't like the president or are a little skeptical of the president. If they just turn a blind eye to what Michael Cohen said in court the other day? Then that could be a problem for them. They are in a tough spot here.

HILL: Voters will likely be asking candidates obviously on both sides of the aisle about this.

Chris, when it comes to Robert Mueller, Lindsey Graham saying it is important to let this process continue without interferences. What about, though, Republican support to make sure nothing happens to Robert Mueller? Chances of that?

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER & CNN EDITOR-AT-LARGE: I think you will see a renewed push in some quarters for that to happen. But it all depends in that regard on Mitch McConnell. Mitch McConnel essentially said, I see no evidence that Donald Trump is going to fire Bob Mueller and, therefore, we don't need this.

I would note that we know that Donald Trump wanted to fire Bob Mueller last -- earlier this year, was talked out of it by Don McGahn, the White House counsel, who's obviously been in the news a lot, of late. So I don't know that this changes much of anything. Remember, Republicans control the House and the Senate, which means they make the rules, effectively.