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INSIDE POLITICS

Cohen Plea Deal; Trump Cancels Meeting; Trump Says Cohen's Lying. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired November 29, 2018 - 12:00   ET

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


[12:00:00] KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you so very much. Gloria, Dana, thanks, guys, I really appreciate it.

Much more on all of this breaking news coming up right now, my colleague John King and "INSIDE POLITICS."

JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you, Kate.

And welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. A blockbuster breaking news day. Thank you for sharing it with us.

The president's long time lawyer and fixer enters a new guilty plea today to a single charge filed by the Russia special counsel. Michael Cohen now admits to lying to Congress and he now says Trump Organization negotiations with Russia about a giant real estate deal extended deep into the 2016 campaign. Cohen told Congress the Moscow Trump Tower talks ended in January, 2016. In this new plea, Cohen acknowledges those discussions continue through June 2016, well after candidate Donald Trump was the presumptive Republican nominee.

The court documents, what's known to the lawyers as a criminal information, refer to the president of the United States as, quote, individual one. In court, Cohen says he lied to be loyal to the president and to stay consistent with the president's political messaging. The court documents filed by Mueller say Cohen was deliberately lying to Congress, quote, to give the false impression that the Moscow project ended before the Iowa caucuses and the very first primary in hopes, the special counsel says, of limning the ongoing Russia investigations. Cohen was still close to Trump when he gave that congressional testimony. His former boss says Cohen's new version is a lie.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRESET: He's a weak person and, by being weak, unlike other people that you watch, he's a weak person. And what he's trying to do is get a reduced sentence. So he's lying about a project that everybody knew about.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: CNN's Shimon Prokupecz tracking all of this outside the courthouse in New York.

Shimon, take us through the significance of what Michael Cohen is admitting and how it fits into the broader context.

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, I think the bottom line is yet again we have Michael Cohen here coming in, admitting whether -- when it was during the campaign, admitting that he basically was trying to protect the president, someone he was extremely loyal to, someone he worked for, and really was to protect him from the Russia investigation. I mean you can't be any more clear from what we heard from Michael Cohen's mouth today here inside this courthouse and in those court documents, that this was being done to limit the investigation, to try and protect the president right before the height of the political season, the campaign, the Iowa caucus, the first primary. All of this obviously was a concern for Michael Cohen. And not only for Michael Cohen. It's also other people that were around the president, that were concerned about the impact of this investigation, perhaps the optics, perhaps other things.

But it's to the point now where we are consistently seeing people lie, this cover up, this continued cover-up. And Michael Cohen is little by little unraveling this entire cover-up that we have seen in this investigation.

The other thing I think that is notable here is that what we heard from Michael Cohen's lawyer is that he is cooperating and that he is going to continue to cooperate with the special counsel and with the U.S. attorney here in New York. Be it whether or not the special counsel's investigation ends, and it should end at some point, this is likely to go on here in New York from the U.S. attorney's office and the FBI agents who are now overseeing parts of this investigation.

KING: Shimon Prokupecz, a very important day. Appreciate the reporting straight from the courthouse. Come back to us if there's any new information.

I want to go to CNN's Jeff Zeleny now. He's live in Buenos Aires where the president is on his way. The timing is interesting, to say the least, for the G-20 Summit.

Jeff, some big news from the president. Not just calling Michael Cohen a liar, but once he got aboard Air Force One, even more news.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: John, no question about it. The president just shortly after saying he thinks it's a very good time to have a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, he tweets out from aboard Air Force One that he's going to cancel that meeting with the Russian president because of Ukraine.

Now, this is something that we have not seen the president do before at all, take a harder line position and say he's not going to meet with the Russian president because of this Ukraine situation.

Of course, so much else is in the headlines that is affecting this. Of course the optics of the president meeting with Vladimir Putin here in Argentina, here at the G-20 Summit, while all of this is swirling around back in the U.S. certainly is optically not good for the president. But this also allows him to change the subject and with the headline being he's cancelling this meeting as he is flying here. So, John, this is all linked together. It has been linked together

since the very beginning. Every one of these foreign trips the president has taken since he's been in office has been marred in some degree by work of the special counsel. In fact, Rudy Giuliani, the president's lawyer, said exactly that. He said the timing, in his view, was suspect. He said the timing was suspicious because the president was flying here, suggesting that Robert Mueller is trying to damage the president on the world stage. We do not, of course, have any evidence of any of that.

[12:05:07] But this is still hanging over the president as he flies here to Argentina. He's scheduled to have so many meetings here. But as of now, it looks at least, he will not have a formal meeting with Vladimir Putin.

But, John, that does not mean they will not meet on the sidelines of this summit. They certainly will be photographed together. So we will see what the substance of all that is.

But, as of now, the president saying simply too risky to meet with Vladimir Putin, he says, because of Ukraine.

John.

KING: Interesting couple of days ahead to say the least.

Jeff Zeleny live in Buenos Aries. Jeff, appreciate that.

With me here in studio on this important day to share their insights and their reporting, CNN's Kara Scannell and Evan Perez, and CNN legal analyst Shan Wu and Carrie Cordero.

We've had a couple of hours now to digest this, which is a big deal. So let's take our time and go through the significance.

So, Michael Cohen says, no, these conversations did not end in January. They went deep into the election year. That matters to Michael Cohen. Now he's going to -- he's admitted he lied to Congress, but it matters to the president why and how?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: It matters to the president greatly because the president has previously said that, you know, he's talked about how he had no business interest in Russia. He's told the American public that there was nothing -- no relationship with Russia that really mattered to him. And it turns out, according to Michael Cohen, and this is a version of events that we now know the special counsel, Robert Mueller, believes -- he believes this version. Michael Cohen is saying that deep into the campaign, after the time that the president is the presumptive nominee of the Republican Party, he's on his way to Cleveland, that they are discussing this Trump Tower in Moscow project. That's a big deal.

And, look, what it also tells us is that the -- beyond what this -- this affects the president, obviously, but it also may cross the red line that the president had set forth. He said that if prosecutors go -- start delving into his business, that that would be a red line he did not want crossed, that he could fire Robert Mueller if they did this. So, red line has been crossed now.

KING: And this is the second time the president has been referred to as "individual one" in court documents, the second time Michael Cohen has said the president of the United States is lying because in putting this plea in today, it's not just saying Michael Cohen lied. Michael Cohen spoke for the president. He was the president's lawyer. When he gave that testimony, he was speaking for the Trump Organization and for the president of the United States.

PEREZ: Right.

KING: He said full stop early 2016, now he says, no, I was lying, this went on into the campaign. This is, again, we sometimes get caught up in this and we don't step back. This is about the president of the United States.

Cohen discussed the status and progress of the Moscow project with "individual one" on more than three occasions. Cohen claimed to the committee that he briefed family members of "individual one" within the company about the project.

Individual one, on more than the three occasions, he claimed to the committee. So essentially Cohen went and lied to Congress, but it's the president and family members.

PEREZ: Right.

KING: This is not just about the president.

KARA SCANNELL, CNN REPORTER: That's right. And, I mean, I think we also have to remember that this information, this court document, is really limited to Cohen's lies, what Cohen said. And he told Congress he never talked to the president more than three times. So they're saying he did more than three times.

But there's a lot more that the special counsel's office knows. They're not -- they don't have to lay it all out here. I mean they're just laying out to contradict Cohen's lies and now for him to be on the record about what the truth is. So in saying here, yes, He did talk to the president more than three times, and he briefed their family members, that's significant. And Michael Cohen has likely told the special counsel's office a lot more about that, which we don't know today.

KING: And that's the key point. So, please, the legal voices help me here, in that we learn from the special counsel whenever he files a court document. Sometimes it's a crumb. Sometimes it's a loaf. But you get the sense that, you know, they knew -- they knew the president's team, and the president himself now, were going to come out and say, no, Michael Cohen's a liar. He's a proven liar. You're even admitting he's a liar in your court documents.

So what they do every time is give us a little bit of what they have. They did this in the Rick Gates trial and they did it here with the e- mails. There's an e-mail here from on or about May 4, 2016, individual two, who we know is Felix Sader, a gentlemen who did business with the Trump Organization. Individual two wrote to Cohen, I had a chat with Moscow. Assuming the trip does happen, the question is before or after the convention. Obviously the pre-meeting trip, you only, can happen any time you want, but the two big guys were the question I said would be confirmed and revert. Cohen responded, by trip before Cleveland, that's where the Republican convention was, once he becomes the nominee after the convention.

The point there is not so much the particulars, although it does talk about travel to Russia, the big guys, during the presidential campaign. It's about the fact that Mueller's team has been meticulous, said, OK, you're going to call him a liar? Here's the document. Here's the other witness.

What did you learn today?

SHAN WU, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Right.

And so the timing here is particularly threatening for the president because he's already submitted those answers.

KING: Right.

WU: And it's interesting too if you look at I think paragraph seven v small i (ph), they reference a senior campaign official knew about the business trip for the Moscow project. If that was Manafort, some interesting play going on. We know Manafort's plea blew up. And they may have blown it up because they knew he was lying based on Cohen's information. And now the president may have submitted false statements because his source was Manafort's team.

[12:10:01] CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Sure. Well, it calls into question anybody who has been testifying to Congress because, again, this particular charge has to do with Michael Cohen lying in information that he provided to Congress in their inquiry. So now anybody else in the Trump family orbit who was involved in these conversations regarding the Moscow project, who has provided either testimony or written letters to Congress throughout this investigation, if they said something that's inconsistent with now Michael Cohen's truthful statement in his plea, they are now facing trouble themselves.

WU: Right.

CORDERO: The other thing I would add that's interesting is that Michael Cohen, in this particular document, he lied to Congress in writing. So it's a little different than if he had been testifying. Then he could come back and say, you know, I made a mistake or I was truthful by (INAUDIBLE) or I forgot something. I was miss -- not truthful by accident or I forgot something. There's no wiggle room here. He lied in written documentation to Congress, which means that it was intention, it was a deliberate lie.

KING: And what he lied about were things the president, and people who speak for the president, were saying were over, long over as a matter of fact. I had no dealings with Russia. The president said that repeatedly. I don't know what you're talking about. We looked into that project. It was over. I did the Miss Universe. We talked about a Trump Tower. It was over. It's -- the whole -- that's what he says is the whole hoax of this.

Cohen says -- here's what he lied about. He says he lied about, misled Congress. Continued discussions through June 2016. Admits they did not end in January 2016. Cohen agreed to travel to Russia, asked Trump about traveling to Russia. Cohen admits to remember now. He admits to remembering contacts with Russian officials.

So it blows up this whole once I became a candidate for president, I stopped anything that would be, a, improper or possibly coordination and collusion.

PEREZ: And, look, John, I think one of the things that this document -- these court documents really do is give us a window into what has been going on behind the scenes. I think you, on this program, have wondered, like, what's -- what's going on with the president. Why is he tweeting up a storm about this? And --

KING: Yes, what does he know that we don't know?

PEREZ: Right. And the key period is right before Thanksgiving he was preparing to respond to Mueller with these written answers. And they were spooked. There was -- there was -- there was paranoia inside the Trump team because they thought that Mueller had something up his sleeve. We now know that this was up his sleeve. And, look, sometimes, you know, sometimes you're paranoid. It doesn't mean that they're not out to get you, right? So what's at work here is that the president has been feeling at least, feeling that this investigation is narrowing and it's getting closer and closer and he's very concerned about what Robert Mueller knows. Clearly Mueller knows a lot more than we certainly have been -- have been told. And that's what's got the president so worried.

KING: And so you watch the president's reaction. He says Cohen's lying now.

WU: Right.

KING: Cohen's lying because he wants a reduced sentence. Sometimes that happens. Sometimes people try to get a reduced sentence. They offer information. But the special counsel files the e-mails, files other information, just enough to say, no, actually, we can back this up. Michael Cohen's not lying now. This time he's telling the truth.

Help me with this one. And this is more for the lawyers I guess. So the president says, believe what Michael Cohen told Congress. That's what the president came out and said several times standing there outside the White House. What he told Congress is the truth. Now he's lying.

The president's lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, issues a statement saying, Michael Cohen is a liar. It's no surprise that Cohen lied to Congress.

What? He's contradicting his client. He's under -- the president of the United States just said believe what he told Congress. WU: Right.

KING: And Rudy Giuliani comes out and says, it's no surprise that Cohen lied to Congress.

WU: Totally inconsistent. They're completely at odds with each other. Even Trump's statements by the helicopter there contradicted himself because now he's saying, you know, let's assume he told the truth and he starts saying, I did have that business deal going. I eventually didn't do it. So he's already contradicting his previous statements. And he's at odds with Giuliani. So they're all over the map.

CORDERO: It also calls into question just all of the lying. I mean what this just adds to is that Russia was all over this campaign. Even before this plea document. There are so many documented instances of members of this campaign interacting, communicating, talking, coordinating with Russian government officials or surrogates in some way, whether it was supposedly on a diplomatic issue, whether it was potentially finding out information about hacking activities to assist the campaign, and now it was with respect to the private Trump Organization business organizations. They were all over this campaign.

KING: Let's take a quick time out. We'll come back and pick up on that very conversation, how this today, this dramatic move by Michael Cohen, a new guilty plea, how it fits into the much larger scope of the Russia investigation.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:18:42] KING: More now on the dramatic breaking news from the Russia special counsel today and how it fits into the broader Mueller investigation and questions about legal and political jeopardy for the president of the United States.

We know he president's written answers to Robert Mueller, we know he responded to questions about possible contacts with Russia or campaign conversations with Russia during the 2016 election year. What we don't know is if anything the president told Mueller in writing now contradicts the statements made today by Michael Cohen or the e-mails and other evidence the special counsel references in the court documents filed today to back up Cohen's new account.

And that is the big question. You know, Rudy Giuliani suggesting this was held to embarrass the president about the G-20 meetings. Others suggesting that Mueller was pretty smart. If he's been working on this for a while, and you're reporting, Kara, is that he meet with Cohen August 7th, September 12th, September 18th, October 8th, October 17th, November 12th and November 20th. So seven times.

SCANNELL: Seven times. And --

KING: And that will continue. The question here is, was Mueller waiting for the president's answers before walking onto court with this? SCANNELL: I mean it seems reasonable (ph). There was a deadline last

night for Cohen to file a brief on his sentencing. (INAUDIBLE) he's going to be sentenced for the crimes that he pled guilty to in -- for the Southern District of New York in two weeks. So it's interesting timing on that part too. They kind of used this deadline as a way to make this new appearance and for him to plead guilty to this charge.

[12:20:06] But, you know, it certainly stands to reason that their -- you know, the special counsel's office could have done this on any day, but it does seem like they waited until after the president's answers were in and so that they could lay this out and not let it influence his answers.

KING: And so the president says Michael Cohen's lying. He also says, what's the big deal. In his view, he says, there's no there there because they didn't build the Trump Tower. They didn't get financing from Russia. Listen to the president.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I decided not to do it. The primary reason, there could have been other reasons, but the primary reason, I was very simple, I was focused on running for president. There would be nothing wrong if I did do it. I was running my business while I was campaigning. There was a good chance that I wouldn't have won, in which case I would have gone back into the business. And why should I lose lots of opportunities.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: There is a question, and you've heard this come up from time to time, when people say, why would Michael Flynn not only be talking to Russians, but talking to Turks and other people as well. Why would Jared Kushner be having conversations about the Kushner companies while in the campaign.

There has been this long running conversation that they all thought they were going to lose. Maybe even the candidate himself.

PEREZ: They did. They absolutely did. And, look, that was the original theory of this investigation. If you go back to the beginnings of this investigation, which begins in 2016, one of the things we heard in our reporting was that the theory that investigators had was that Donald Trump and his family, and some of the others, some of the hangers on, they didn't expect him to win. And they thought that Hillary Clinton was a sure thing. And so what they wanted to do was use the campaign to enrich themselves, to set up projects for after the election. They were going to use the visibility of the Republican nomination of running for president to do business deals that were going to set them up very well in Russia, in Turkey and other places after they lost.

And, by the way, the president has repeatedly said that the opposite. He says, oh, I always knew I was going to win, but that's not true, I don't think.

KING: And help me with this. We can't connect some dots because we're waiting for more from the investigators to see whether they have things or not to connect the dots. But we can look at the timeline of how things played out. March 2016, Paul Manafort, long Russian ties, joins the Trump campaign. March 2016, "The Guardian" says he actually met with Julian Assange, who had gotten the e-mails from Russia. Michael Cohen, in May, says he's willing to travel to Russia. June, is that infamous Trump Tower meeting where Russians with ties to the Kremlin come in, Don Junior arranges the meeting. They say they have dirt on Hillary Clinton. On June 2016, Cohen says he can no longer travel to Russia. In July, WikiLeaks releases the first batch of e- mails. In July there's also the Republican Convention where they watered down the platform when it comes to Russia. Then in October, the Podesta e-mails come out.

So you mentioned the point earlier, there's a lot of Russia around this campaign. The question is, is it a whole lot of Russia coincidence or can you connect those dots?

CORDERO: Well, I think there's -- there was a lot of Russia involved, probably as Evan suggests, in part to enrich themselves, which they did throughout the, you know, set up matters (ph) throughout the campaign and have continued to make money off of a variety, including foreign entities that are staying at their properties, while he is the president. So I think there are -- there is that piece.

It also reads as though a question as to whether there's still a part of this investigation that might eventually reveal campaign finance, more campaign finance violations in terms of foreign money or foreign assistance, whether or not the prosecutors would interpret any types of help or dealing or side deals that they were potentially making with Russian government or Russian surrogates that affected the election in some way in effect to help the campaign.

WU: And there are two ways of looking at this notion that they were setting themselves up for future business and now they're in trouble. The first is you can say it's a failure of lawyering. That as soon as you're hired as a lawyer you've got to say, hey, this is what you folks are doing. Nothing wrong with that. Let's say consistent with the story.

The second is, when your client is not telling you what's really going on, lawyers can't formulate a strategy. We see that all the time. Giuliani's statements are all over the place. And maybe the reason they can't be clean with their lawyers is because of that, there's bigger problems behind that they just can't come clean. And that's what accounts for all this confusion.

KING: The question for me, and appreciate everything we know today, is that this is a pyramid moment, builds things like a pyramid, broad case against Manafort, narrow case against Gates. We're going this way. When are we getting there? When do we get there?

Appreciate the legal insight.

When we come back, the charge against Michael Cohen is that he lied to Congress. So how is this playing on Capitol Hill?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:29:06] KING: Back to the big, breaking news this hour, Michael Cohen, the president's long time attorney and fixer, pleading guilty to a single charge from the Russia special counsel today, admitting in a New York courtroom he misled Congress. His goal was to obstruct or at least limit the Russia meddling investigations.

The ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, Mark Warner, joins us now live from Capitol Hill.

Senator Warner, if Michael Cohen is now telling the truth and the special counsel has some e-mails that back up his latest account. So if Michael Cohen lied to the committee, did anyone else about this specific issue?

SEN. MARK WARNER (D), VICE CHAIRMAN, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Well, I think that's an open question. We have a very good working relationship with the special counsel and, as appropriate, share information with them.

[12:29:46] But I guess we shouldn't be totally surprised at this. This is one more example of a close ally or affiliate of Donald Trump lying about their ties or conversations with Russia or Russians. You know, this is a pattern. And, remember, this is about a then candidate for president of the United States