tv The Lead With Jake Tapper CNN December 13, 2018 1:00pm-2:00pm PST
seen going back to i think it was the late '70s so 40 years. i thought it was staggering. >> it is. >> and i wanted to make sure that people are aware. the next thing is what do we do about it? jessica dean, thank you very much and thank you very much for being with me. i'm brooke baldwin. "the lead" with jake tapper starts right now. >> reporter: president trump now says michael cohen was just his pr guy. bang-up job there, by the way. "the lead" starts right now. defense and denial. president trump giving his first tv interview after his former fixer michae cohen was sentenced to three years in the big house. is it possible the president just managed to dig the hole deeper for himself? also breaking today, a russian woman who was once face-to-face with candidate trump admits tock an agent of the russian government and gives us one of the most revealing looks yet at one of moscow's operations to infiltrate american politics. plus, did you read it before you posted it? the department of homeland
security posts a memo about the border wall, and it's missing a few words, but don't worry? president build wall high. welcome to "the lead." i'm jake tapper. we begin with the politics lead. while his personal lawyer and fixer is heading to prison, president trump is trying to shift the blame and spin the story claiming he did not direct michael cohen to break the law which is, of course, a complete contradiction with assertions made by the u.s. attorney's office for the southern district of new york which stated directly in court that the illegal hush money payments to stormy daniels and to karen mcdougal were done in coordination with and at the direction of president trump. mr. trump also today questioning if the mcdougal payment was ever even made, and technically the president might be correct in that while mcdougal was paid for her silence by the "national enquirer" parent company ami, there's not yet any evidence that mr. trump or his organization paid them back.
"the wall street journal" has even report that had ami ceo david pecker called off the reimbursement deal on the advice of his lawyer worried that it would be viewed as an in-kind campaign contribution. "the journal" also reporting that pecker asked cohen to tear up that reimbursement agreement, but cohen did not do so, and federal agents found it when they raided his office. president trump is, however, on tape discussing that payment with michael cohen. beyond in a spin, there were some odd and false claims made by the president today such as that cohen flowed two campaign charges which were not criminal, unquote, which is a bizarro world interpretation given that cohen is going to prison for those criminal charges and others. the president also complained today that those two felony counts were simply added to cohen's docket embarrass him, the president. cnn's jeff zeleny is at the white house. president trump seems to be throwing out all the defense options and seeing what sticks. >> reporter: jake, he does.
he also has, of course, repeatedly referred to all these legal charges against him as a witch hunt, but today he took a slightly different approach saying it was all part of a plan to embarrass him. now, as for michael cohen, his longtime fixer and lawyer, the president also diminished him as a low level aide and said this. in retrospect i maybe shouldn't have hired him. >> let me tell you. i never directed him to do anything wrong. >> reporter: president trump speaking out today against his longtime lawyer and fixer michael cohen saying the charges that led to cohen he's three-year prison sentence were intended to embarrass the president. >> because what he did was all unrelated to me, except for the two campaign finance charges that are not criminal and shouldn't have been on there. they put that on to embarrass mow. put those two charges on to embarass me. >> reporter: but the president's view spelled out in a flurry of tweets is at odd with the facts. had insisted the campaign finance charges related to the
push money payments to porn store stormy daniels and karen mcdougal was not criminal. >> michael cohen pled guilty to something that is not a crime. >> reporter: part of the reason why cohen received a prison sentence for three years. the the increasingly isolated as friends turn on him, including "national enquirer" publisher david pecker who received immunity for the hush money payments and the president trying to muddy the waters. >> i have to check. i don't think they any paid any money to that tab lord, i okay? i don't think we made payment to that tab loidolt. >> reporter: though it appears to be true, trump didn't may american media, inc., prosecutors say he directed them to pay mcdougal to keep her quiet about an alleged affair and the president had kinder words for another one-time friend, formerizeder michael flynn, fired by trump and now cooperating with special counsel robert mueller's russia probe.
while trump said flynn didn't lie. >> i have a feeling that maybe he didn't. he's a tougher kind of a guy than cohen, but they took a general that they said didn't lie, and they convinced him he did lie, and they made some kind of a deal. >> reporter: that's precisely what flynn pleady guilty, to -- pleading guilty, to and now he's awaiting sentencing. >> reporter: that sentencing is next week and it's unclear what that sentence will be. the special counsel has recommended no jail time for michael flynn because of his special assistance in the russia investigation, so, jake, that's one of the many questions here at white house. what exactly what is that special assistance michael flynn gave? perhaps next week we'll find out. >> perhaps. jeff zeleny at the white house, thanks so much. the president says he's not even sure he ever made that payment to american media ink, the parent company of "national enquirer." put aside all the court documents how trump directed them to make the $150,000
payment. trump is also on tape with cohen. >> i've spoken to alan weisberg about how to set things up. >> to funding -- yes. and -- and it's -- all the stuff. >> now maybe he didn't pay them as he was supposed, to according to original plan, but the plan is laid out there, and david pecker apparently held up his end of the deal. we heard the prosecutor description of an august 2015 meeting is similar to the first meeting reported by "the wall street journal" when they met to discuss how they would handle any negative stories. kaitlan, you know, the president seems to be hanging his hat on the fact that they never paid pecker, but i don't know that that real matters. >> reporter: he's toeing the line and what we've seen president trump do a lot of times. he said we didn't make the payment but he didn't say we didn't make that payment because david pecker backed out of this according to the reporting from "the wall street journal" because he was advised by his legal counsel that it could be seen as an in-kind campaign
contribution, so the president doesn't go there in the interview. said he didn't pay them. didn't say that the lawyer set it up for them to pay him for buying the right to the woman's story so she wouldn't go public with that story or couldn't go public with that story alleging she had an affair with the president. that's toeing the line and what we've seen on twit they are morning trying to give an insight into his legal strategy by saying -- he's not disputing that he directed michael cohen to made the payments to the women. he said i didn't direct him to do anything illegal while he was doing it. >> david, in the non- -- in the non-prosecution agreement with ami, it says, quote, the agreement also acknowledges ami's agreement to provide cooperation in the future. we just heard cohen reference all the stuff in the tape. it's not difficult to imagine that there's more beyond mcdougal and stormy daniels, so it's possible that this is not the end of the ami part of this. >> sure. there's two things. to be granular on this, right, i
think a lot of this turns on what the president's intent is, right? what can they prove? what did the president intend? did he intend to violate campaign finance laws and to go to 100,000 feet, does it matter and why does it matter? it matters because are they going to try to prosecute the president. >> probably not. we heard jarred nad lersch the incoming chairman of the house judiciary committee, this probably is something that's impeachable, i doubt we i'm peach him for it. >> right. >> we should care about it for a lot of reasons. on the criminal side, but on the political side, doesn't seem like that no matter what happens it's going to tilt balance in jerry nadler's mind at sgleest what do you think? does it matter, from the 10,000-foot view, does it matter for moral reasons? >> i'm not saying there's not that. talking about criminal and political. >> i know there are other ones. >> i think -- as i've often said, i think the moral part is a given, but i think it's
something that people understood when they voted for him so that's part of the equation. look, first off, i would like to say the president should just have a legal strategy and enact it and not talk about if in public. i'm not had a lawyer, but he takes bad legal advice from a lot of people so i feel like mine might be bedder than some. i am with him i think the president on this part of it which is -- do i think that they would be going hard after cohen on rather small s.e.c. violations of $100,000ish dollars? i don't think they would. these things are hard to stick, as we saw with john edwards. they are often settled well fines as i think they probably should be. it's not that i don't think cohen doesn't have stuff to answer for which is why he made the deal but i do think that that's why we're talking about those things. it doesn't matter how trashy an s.e.c. violation is. it's still an s.e.c. violation. >> robe, you were hillary clinton's campaign manager. federal prosecutors laid out yesterday, quote, ami further
admitted its purpose was to suppress the woman's story so as to prevent it for instance flunsing the election. that is the difference in the story from the john edwards story. do you think that this would have made a difference, and the reason i ask is because this is after the "access hollywood" tape dropped that all this happened, so the american people did have some idea, and, you know, these are consensual relationships as opposed to what's described on the "access hollywood" tape. >> it speaks to the overall moral issue that gets lost in the details. i don't like to call "the enquirer" a media organization but a media organization is being paid by a presidential campaign to buy someone's story and suppress t.of course, i think that would have made a difference. is it going to change the outcome of the election, who knows, but i will say the number of things we're asking. did it make a difference continue to pile up? did leaking e-mails make a difference, you know? did james comey make a difference? now we learn they are literally paying news organizations to
suppress storeies? does that make a difference. >> what about the alleged affair itself, would that have made a difference? because that's what they are hiding. >> what would have made a difference is knowing that this campaign's practice was to pay an organization to buy stories away, to make them go away. >> the catch and kill. >> i think absolutely people would have been alarmed. >> we're asking a question because president trump thought it would have made a difference so why would he have done it. >> it's also his m.o. >> it's also allegedly -- this is what the catch and kill stories have been going on with trump for years, not only about that, but bad business stories and -- the known kwir her been doi -- the "national enquirer" had been doing it for years and years. it was a practice. >> and why michael cohen hired him to work for him. if we could run that tape, president trump talking about michael cohen and why he hired him. >> very low level work. >> why did you need him? >> more public relations than law. you would see him on television,
he was okay on television, but years ago, many years, like 12, 13 years ago, he did me a favor. he was on a commit, and he was so responsive and so good, and i said he's a nice guy. he was on a committee. it was a condominium committee many years ago, and he was a very big supporter of mine on that committee. >> he was higher level than that. >> well, also the president said he was hired because of what he did for trump tower. that's when i believe they were trying to take his name off trump tower and michael cohen helped with that. yeah, also, it's not even just that michael cohen was higher than that, someone who was, you know, very close to the president and very close to his family, but the president made that remark during that interview that was taped around lunchtime. a few hours earlier he was tweeting all of this happened just because he had been taking the advice of his counsel who was michael cohen and then he's saying he didn't do legal work, he just if pr stuff, so those two contradict each other, so can you see why the president is kind of spitballing here and trying to say whatever he can and that's why we've seen his
argument shift over the last few months going from i didn't know about the payments to he did know about them to they weren't campaign finance violations but if they whether it's michael cohen's firm. >> michael cohen was paid "x" amount as a salary inside trump tower. he was a hustler. he was a hustler and the president incentivized him. i don't know if he was necessarily running the trump organization but he was a grinder. >> his office is on the same floor as president trump's in trump tower. you're never more important and tremendous while working when you're working for him hand never more small when you've left. >> president trump claims he never directed michael cohen to make the hush money payments and now he says michael flynn did not lie to the fbi. what has changed between december of last year and today? then, by the numbers, first lady melania trump becoming more like her husband. we'll show you how.
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♪ we have some breaking news in our world lead. police have killed the gunman responsible for a terrorist attack on a french christmas market earlier this week. three people were killed and 13 others injured after the gunman opened fire on tuesday. cnn's ben wedeman joins me live. what do we know about the police operation to track down the attacker who was at large? >> well, that operation went on for 49 hours. an hour ago three policeman not far from the area where sharif chekatt grew up, that individual opened fire on the police and the police returned fire and killed him. this ends a manhunt that involved security forces.
several thousand here in france but also in germany which is very near to strasburg as well as in switzerland. this individual, of course, had a long criminal record but no record of involvement in terrorism. >> jake? ben wedeman. thanks. president trump said this today about his former national security adviser in his interview with fox. >> they took a general who said they didn't lie and they convinced him he did lie, and he made some kind of a deal, and now they are recommending no time, you know why? because they are embarrassed that they got caught. >> embarrass that had they got caught. i'm assuming that's not how you see it, rob? >> no, not at all. he's twisting this around trying to make it confusing. i'm fascinated to see what comes out next week. >> with the flynn. >> exactly. what did he help them with?
i don't know how much we'll learn, but it's -- he's so central to this question of whether the russians were offering something, right, saying get rid of these sanctions and we'll do "x," or maybe they had something on flynn, we don't know, but i think this is a real critical piece. i'm real el interested to see what they have next week. >> it really is just curious. we don't know what he lied about and why he lied half. national security adviser, an incoming national security adviser having a phone call with the russian ambassador is certainly allowed to do that, allowed to discuss sanctions and allowed to discuss what he hopes for foreign policy in a few weeks. >> we may know more about it next week, not only about what flynn did and knew and why he lied hand also about how the fbi handled it. the judge has asked specifically for a punch of, perhaps under seal, how he was interviewed and how they went about doing that. i don't know what will come of that or what the reason is for asking that. flynn's lawyers said they were a little aggressive on then and just to be the weird over the libertarian at the table, i
don't think it should be a crime to lie to federal law enforcement. they can lie to you. you can lie to them. >> curiouser and curiouser. the president suggested that flynn and cohen made these deals with the fbi, with the justice department out of fear. take a listen. >> the fbi said michael flynn, a general and a great person, they said he didn't lie, and mueller said, well, maybe he did, and -- and now they are all having a big dispute, so i think that's a great thing that the judge is looking into that situation. that's -- that's an honor for a lot of terrific people. >> didn't he say he was firing him because -- >> he said he was firing him for lying. >> so, i don't know who he lied to internally. >> pence for one. >> but mary katherine's earlier point, the judge asked for some specific underlying documents dealing with general flynn so we'll see to the president's point. you know, maybe there's a question of whether or not general flynn actually did lie and the judge wants to see that.
the judge wants to see if he -- >> if michael flynn didn't lie, he would have brought it up and also lied to vice president mike pence and today president trump was arguing against the special counsel saying they try to get people to lie about small misstatements and then they charge them with that. saying you did not discuss sanctions with a russian official when you did is not a misstatement. if you said you didn't have that during a phone call and you did, that's a big lie. >> jake's point, you're allowed to do that, so why lie about it? that doesn't make anyence. >> that's a question for michael flynn. >> that's a question for michael flynn, and we're now seeing the president trying to the argument that they are trying to get people with small misstatements, that if they got the weather wrong they would charge them with lying. >> sanksz with russctions with interfering with russia and what is insignificant is president trump fired michael flynn.
this isn't somebody that he stuck by. this is somebody fired for lying to pence if no one else. >> exactly. let's keep in mind. this is a guy who fired james comey because of how he claimed james comey treated hillary clinton but at the time james comey was going after hillary clinton donald trump was applauding him. this changes all the time. he's making it on the fly. he's not getting his own legal advice. this is his own legal advice in his head, but, yeah, look, it will be -- i think we know so much less than we even think we do. i think a lot is going to come out. let's remember flynn was at the republican convention. we know kislyak was there. sessions lied to the senate about meeting with kislyak. >> robe, the convention -- kislyak and sessions -- sessions shook his hand hat a reception line at a heritage foundation reception. that's not had a meeting where they are sitting down. that's a handshake in a receiving line. >> that's what we know. this is my point. >> i think that's pretty much
it. >> every step in this investigation more keeps coming out. it's not less, and so i think there's a lot more. >> we'll see. >> excited to find how the more. coming up, she pleaded guilty and now we're learning wo the target was for this alleged russian spy. stay with us. i need a cookbook for my best friend. beginner or advanced? advanced. sweet or savory? both. apple strudle or spicy jammy? strudle! how's this? perfect. how'd you do that? it's what i do. nobody knows foodies like we do... barnes & noble. don't you get the one of those travel sites? they tell you that, but when you book at hilton.com, you get the price match guarantee. so if you find your room at a lower rate, hilton is like... we're gonna match that rate and give you an extra 25% off. what would travel sites do if you found a better price?
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she's young, russian and loves gun and today maria butina pled guilty to acting as a foreign government. she admitted she was acting under orders of russian government officials when she tried to infiltrate republican political circles including the national rifle association during the 2016 campaign in hopes of influencing u.s. policy towards russia. cnn's sara murray joins me now. we know she's cooperating with prosecutors. >> reporter: depends how helpful she to the government. she is facing time served to five years in prison. the judge did not set a sentencing date because she's still cooperating. she admitted she conspired to act as a federal agent. >> show was satisfied with her lawyers and made the decision voluntarily. >> reporter: wearing a green prison jumpsuit and a tea partied undershirt butina spoke clearly with a russian accent as she entered her plea.
show acted at the direction of a russian official who cnn has identified as former russian bank alexander tohshin while attending american university and failed to notify the u.s. government. she's providing information how her boyfriend, republican paul ericsson aided her dealings in the u.s. according to a plea, butina's plot to build relationships with politically influential americans and advance russian interests included attending national rifle association meetings and organizing a russian delegation to attend the 2017 national prayer breakfast in d.c. >> thank you very much. >> reporter: she kicked off her plan around march of 2015 working with ericsson on the, quote, diplomacy project. according to the plea, she proposed getting $125,000 from a russian billionaire to attend conferences and arrange other
meetings. at one 20 is a political event she asked about his views on russia. >> if you're elected president what, will be your politics especially in the relationships with my country? >> i believe i would get along very nicely with putin, okay? >> reporter: that same year she invited an nra delegation to moscow to build closer ties. afterwards she sent torshin a message saying we will let them express gratitude now and put pressure on them. butina also attended the nra's 2015 annual meeting, meeting with scott walker, when he announced he would run for president, with butina in the audience. butina also tried to arrange a motoring between vladimir putin and donald trump but her efforts fell short. >> the russian government recently claimed that butina was being for toured while she was being held in custody so there was an interesting discussion about her mental health today in
court, jake. her lawyer has also complained that she's been in solitary confinement, but today in front of the judge her lawyer says she's doing elementally. she's allowed out of her cell sometimes at nights and visits with a russian orthodox minister. >> all right. sara murray, thanks so much. let's talk about this with the panel. kaitlan collins, one key point, in a proposal she wrote after her travels to the u.s. and an nra event she said she laid the groundwork for an unofficial channel of communication with the next u.s. administration this. seems to get at an idea that russia wanted a relationship when the next administration and wanted an improved relationship and the sanctions lifted. >> which is what the intelligence community has assessed over and over again, and that's why there's been such frustration with the trump administration when people believe that they are downplaying these russian efforts to interfere in the election and why it's been such a focus for the white house, but
in the president's mind and what has been described to me by a lot of people it's hard for him to separate the two because if he -- every time he brings up, are everyone is looking at his contacts with russia, his contacts' contacts with are, and they believe it's a struggle and lose-lose for him and if he brings it up it will automatically trigger those conversations about what people he knew were talking with russian officials. >> we 14u9d poishould point out just ask donald trump in 2016, the court documents said she was introduced to influential party one, one of whom announced to run for the presidency of the united states shortly thereafter, then the governor of wisconsin, so obviously it wasn't just trumpet trying to get to anybody she could get to. >> look, what we don't know is what we don't know about her, right in the extent of her importance. obviously if you're, you know, you're in that role you're going to exaggerate somewhat your own
importance back to your superiors, so we'll just have to wait and see, but let's not take our eye off the fact that this administration has hammered russians with sanctions. they have been arming the ukrainians and have done -- look in russia right now. the russians are not favorable disposed of this administration. this administration -- and a small country called norway has a gigantic military operation undergoing right on the russian border. the fact that the russians are so upset, they set two bombers to venezuela to kind of poke this administration back in the eye. >> except when trump is in the room with putin. >> an important exception, when trump is in the room with putin it's all love and we won't call him out. if we step back, nothing about this makes sense, okay? you have the national rifle association. you have a banker in russia, a guy running a state bank who by the way has been indicted on money laund energy spain who is a life member, and then in russia -- >> life member of the nra. >> of the nra and then you have a gun rights organization in
russia, an authoritarian state, why would you have a gun rights organization in an authoritarian state. >> they don't like that. >> you mentioned scott walker, david clark the chsheriff is gog over to meetings with butina in russia. >> david clark is not a high-ranking sglishl why would you have -- high-ranking official. why would you have someone like that with meetings? >> those that there's real shenanigans afoot and russians want to infiltrate and frankly in this case it looks like it wasn't that hard. this isn't a super sophisticated operation she was pulling here. going cpac, hey, can we hang out. that's not a great sign. perhaps because she has decided to cooperate we'll learn more about in and more sophisticated. >> to what end? what were the results?
we'll find out. >> one thing that i think is definitely true is that with democrats taking over the house, the ra is going to be forced to answer some questions. >> well, that's true. >> unless they plead the fifth, because the republicans have not maryland hearing on this, but i can't imagine democrats won't. >> that's what you would presume. i don't think any nra officials have commented on this yet about what is to come when the democrats take over but you would assume that's what they are going to do among a myriad of other things they promised. >> breaking news about president trump's inauguration. stick around. your brain changes as you get older. but prevagen helps your brain with an ingredient iginally discovered... in jellyfish. in clinical trials, prevagen has been shown to improve short-term memory. prevagen. healthier brain. better life.
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reporting the federal prosecutors in manhattan are investigating whether president trump's inaugural committee misspent some of the money it raised from donations. this is part of a criminal probe examining whether some top donors gave money to the inaugural committee in exchange for access to the trump administration for specific quid pro quos. the investigation partly arises out of material seize theed in the federal raids of the offices of michael cohen. sources tell "the journal." let's talk about this. first of all, we should acknowledge up front, and i'm not excusing anything, but inaugural committees a legend airline sleazy operations. they are exempt from all sorts of rules and disclosures. people try to raise as much money as they can from corporations. they are like conventions that way. >> there's a big problem in politics in general. money moving into these campaigns, including the inaugurations and it's -- it's hard to say that no it doesn't have any impact whatsoever. it would not surprise me in the
slightest though that this administration took it so much further. there's no way investigators are actually going after this or charges are going to be filed until they have real documentation of quid pro quo. sounds like they might have a recording of that. i would also say that this is the president who gave the presidential medal of freedom to sheldon adelson's wife. unclear what she did for this. there's a lot to sale. >> sheldon adelson who was one of the biggest donors, but what's really interesting is that they say that federal prosecutors have asked rick gates, who has cooperated we know after he pled guilty earlier this year in connection with something unrelated to the president along with paul manafort, they asked him because he was the deputy chairman of this inaugural committee. after paul map aforethought left the trump campaign, he was paul manafort's deputy and he was the one not well known but he stayed around through the inauguration, so he's already cooperating. he agreed to cooperate once he agreed to plead earlier and they are asking him about these expenses hand how the funds were
used. it's unclear which expenses they are looking at judging from this "the wall street journal" report. >> the inaugural committee has pubically identified vendors accounting for $61 million of the $103 million that it spent. >> a lot of money. >> and has not provided details on those expenses. it says that a former adviser to melania trump, there's a recording of her, expressing concern about how the inaugural committee was spending money, according to a person familiar. >> cohen is the gift that keeps on giving, right? >> and keeps recording. >> for the fbi, right? when they raided his office and they took the things out of the shredder and his safe, you know, that was going to be problemsome. look works knows what michael cohen was trying to sell and on whose behalf. only michael cohen knows that. look, michael cohen might have been doing this completely on his own accord and try to pocket some of the difference, right? we don't know any of it. don't know any of it. >> when everything was a total mess. even people who are huge fans of
the president, huge supporters this, is a total mess right now because this is when they were going through the transition period before the inauguration happened trying to figure out who was going to take what position and even people around for the darkest days of the campaign say the transition period was one of the worst because it was such a mess. it was so all over the place. they say that period it was so chaotic and contributed to a lot of the problems that they are having now with people like michael flynn and michael cohen. >> mueller has been probing the inaugural committee, and there hasn't been a ton about it in the press and did refer a case to the u.s. attorney in washington. >> right. >> and in august the u.s. attorney's office in august on that referral obtained a guilt plea, just reading from "the journal" story from a washington consultant, unnamed works admitted he used a u.s. citizen to sever as a straw purchaser so a prominent ukraine oligarch could attend the inauguration. names were never disclosed. you talk about we don't know stuff. i don't even remember that story, a washington consultant,
ukraine oligarch, straw purchasing. >> this is not good. >> like you said, sort of a regularly scandalous or corrupt sort of operation like an inaugural committee where things can be pretty sleazy. like, hesitate to convict them because there's an investigation going on, but would i be surprised that some bad things went senator no, i would not. >> also, interesting to see, you know, what the facts are behind that, because as you pointed out, campaign contributions are in one category and the inaugural committee for all its problems is in ma complete other committee, and so -- is in a complete other committee. what did that person get, snikts what were th -- get tickets? what were they trying to buy? specific policy changes for giving money to the inaugural committee? >> there's a lot of comparisons for watergate and a lot of our
campaign finance laws came out of watergate, slush funds, and i wonder if we're entering another period where we've got clean this up mess because the whole purpose of all these laws is to prevent our public officials from being able to dispose of problems, doing shade things. we don't know who donald trump is accountable to. he might be account football another russian oligarch we're learning. >> it's a ukrainian oligarch. >> probably russian money involved. >> perhaps. >> just putting that out there. >> take it back to the day when the president was having a meeting with military leaders talking about syria. it was the day that they raid the michael cohen's home, office and hotel and president trump went into an outburst about michael cohen saying it was a disgrace for them to do that. they had a warrant and they broke into his office and now we're seeing why president trump was so frustrated that day. i asked so many people in the white house what led to that anger, because you had not seen
anger like that from president trump because michael cohen knows so much and has so much and clearly we're seeing that. and a lot of people made the point after michael cohen was sentenced to three years that they didn't think that the problems that arose from that were going to end there. they thought they would continue. people are going to look into the trump organization and family and now they are looking at the trump inauguration from the documents, a conversation that they had when they raided his office or home or hotel. >> i think some of the fear, too, michael cohen is a little bit of a loose cannon. before all this took place he was operating on his own. >> president trump hired him. >> and a lot of this is guaranteed. >> operating on his own. >> but he's getting paid by the president. >> we'll see. we'll seal. >> stick around. we'll take a quick break. we'll be right back. say hello to the braava jet mopping robot from irobot. its precision jet spray and vibrating cleaning head loosen and scrub stains. all while navigating kitchens, bathrooms and those hard to reach places. you and braava jet from irobot.
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breaking news just in. "the wall street journal" is reporting that federal prosecutors in manhattan are investigating the trump inaugural committee and whether top donors gave money for access to the trump administration or more, anything that could violate federal corruption laws, according to "the journal." our cnn legal analyst joins me on the phone. how locally significant could this story be? >> reporter: it could be big, jake. it looks like a lot of evidence came out of the search warrant that the southern district of new york did on michael cohen's office and hotel back in april, and -- and we know that the southern district got tens of thousands of documents, and it looks like this could be based on that. there could be various different potential federal crimes implicated here. first of all, if money was given
in exchange for access to the administration, that's potentially a federal crime. it depends on how specific the understanding was, right? most people give money to an inaugural with some sort of favorable consideration, but if there's more of a specific quid pro quo, specific exchange understood, then we could have federal bribery statutes. also because the inaugural committee was a nonprofit, there could be crimes if some of that money was diverted out for improper uses, non- -- nonprofit uses, in which case they could have tax problems because non-profits obviously are tax-exempt, and if the money was being used for improper political purposes instead of nonprofit purposes, there could be federal tax liability. >> thanks so much. i want to go to "the wall street journal" reporter rebecca davis o'brien who broke this story along with her colleagues. rebecca. how significant could this story be? you talk about how they are looking for possible corruption
one suspects, you know, given how sleazy inaugural committees just are in general and how rich people give a lot of money and then ultimately in the course of any administration the rich people tend to benefit from one policy or another. how -- i mean, based on your reporting, how far along the path are they? >> well, what we've reported is that the investigation is still in its early sfajs, but some people have been asked questions about their donations and the committee's spending. there was a huge amount of money involved and more than ever recorded in the inaugural fund and there's been questions swirling around this committee and how it spent its money and sort of the outsized costs involved for months now, and this just shows that, you know, some of the material that was seized in the michael cohen raids earlier this year could play a role in other investigations. >> you mentioned former melania
trump aide who had left the administration and how she expressed, according to a recording, expressed concern to michael cohen about how money was being spent. there was about $100 million, $103 million raised for the inaugural committee. are they able to account for that money? >> reporter: one thing is they don't have to account for the money they spent. it's a nonprofit. they did disclose in tax files that were described earlier this year, you know, they -- they disclosed their top five biggest expenses, their biggest contractors, and some of them, there were eye-popping figures there. $25 million went to one event planninger is vicious and another 25.8 million went to this business founded or start by the former melania trump aide, but this recording is about, you know, some concerns that she was evidently expressing to mr. cohen about how the inaugural committee was being run and how it was
spending money. >> you also note in this art call, you remember to this tennessee developer, frank haney, he made a $1 million donation to the president's inaugural commit, and then in early april he hired michael cohen who at the same time was also trump's lawyer to help obtain a $5 billion loan from the energy department for a nuclear power plant. -ins also from a journal previous reporting, and he's been asked questions about these documents. i mean, michael cohen being in that deal is obviously something that federal investigators and prosecutors would be interested in. >> right. i think that there's an element here about mr. cohen who, you know, obviously michael cohen has been in the center of a lot of news recently, but he was considered an access point to donald trump. you forget at one point he was -- he was a real insider here, and mr. haney's role or interactions with michael cohen
suggest that, and, again, he was a big donor to the inaugural fund. >> do you have any sense and i know the investigation is early, but do you have any sense that this is something that they are looking hat michael cohen about, sore this broader than just michael cohen, because, you know, if you have here in the story, this former melania trump aide, miss walcoff talking about concerns about how money is being spent and michael cohen as a focal point, a rich guy trying to get a $5 billion loan and giving $1 million to the inaugural committee, do you sense that this is beyond michael cohen or focused just on him? >> i don't think the focus, necessarily, is on him. he didn't have han official role in the inaugural but at the time he was close to the white house and during the transition period, so it -- it makes sense that he would be a person that people involved in in inaugural would reach out to. from what we understand it's beyond him. it's the people giving big money and the people who were in charge of making expenditures
for the inaugural events themselves. >> it sounds like he was keeping a whole lot of documentation about things that people didn't want him to keep documentation about. >> the things that were seized from the raid, they keep popping up here and there. some of them were referred to in the government's sentencing memo so, you know, this is another example of pieces of recorded conversations that have become potential evidence in a criminal investigation. >> right, just like similarly "the journal" report, i think it was you, about the american media incorporated, the "national enquirer" parent company david pecker and this whole question about whether or not they are hiring of the "playboy" play mate of the year with whomp president trump had an affair, hiring her and whether or not president trump was going to pay her back, and pecker got advice, this is all from your reporting, pecker got advice from his lawyer don't do that because then it lab campaign expense and then an
illegal one at that, and he told michael cohen to shred the document and take it from there. what did michael cohen do with the document? >> he did not shred the document. it was seized in the raid. >> that's obviously the point here. he was keeping everything and recording everything so it's not just about payoffs to alleged mistresses but potentially quid pro quos that he was possibly, at least according to your store to and the manhattan district attorney, possibly setting up, he'll give this much money if he can get such and such down the road and maybe he has documentation that have. >> yeah. i think, you know, we don't -- we don't know all the contents that were seized in that raid, but it does seem like there's still investigative threads emerging from that cohen investigation. >> all right. rebecca, thank you so much. excellent reporting. rebecca davis o'brian, one of the three reporters who just broke "the wall street journal" story about the trump
inauguration spending and its spending being under federal investigation. our coverage on cnn continues right now. >> happening now, breaking news, room where it happened. cnn has confirmed that then candidate donald trump was in the room when his former lawyer michael cohen discussed illegal hush money payments with the publisher of the "national enquirer." embarrassed. the president falsely claims that the campaign finance violated in which he's implicated are not criminal charges, and he accused federal prosecutors of adding them to the cohen case just to embarrass him. russian agent. accused spy maria butina completes guilty to being a foreign agent trying to influence u.s. politics. now show's cooperating with federal prosecutors. what espionage secrets will she resfleel and melania