Return to Transcripts main page


Paul Manafort Found Guilty on Eight of 18 Charges; Cohen Pleads Guilty to Eight Felonies. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired August 21, 2018 - 17:00   ET




WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST (voice-over): Happening now, breaking news. Manafort guilty: Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort found guilty on eight of the counts against him but the jury can't decide on the other 10 counts.

Does that count as a victory for the special counsel Robert Mueller?

Cohen plea deal: President Trump's former lawyer and long-time fixer Michael Cohen surrenders to the FBI and strikes a plea deal on campaign finance violations, tax fraud and bank fraud. Cohen once said he'd never turn on the president.

But did he just implicate President Trump?

Tied to Trump: Cohen's plea deal on campaign finance charges is tied to his efforts to protect President Trump in handling the Stormy Daniels case.

Will the plea implicate the president even more?

And preparing to attack: just months before the midterms, Microsoft now says it's foiled a cyber attack by the same Russian intelligence unit linked to the 2016 election attacks. This time the targets are different.

Will the president do anything about this?

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Breaking news: Two of President Trump's former close associates are right now in legal hot water and the temperature has just reached the boiling point. A jury finds former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort guilty on eight counts, an assortment of tax fraud and bank charges, while the judge declares a mistrial on 10 other counts.

And the president's one-time long time lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen was taken into custody by the FBI just before pleading guilty and facing prison time for tax and bank fraud charges, along with campaign finance charges linked to the hush money deals with Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal.

We have reporters standing by outside the courthouses in Virginia and New York. And I'll speak with Congressman Joaquin Castro of the Intelligence and Foreign Affairs Committees. Our correspondents and specialists are also standing by with full coverage.

Let's begin with the verdict in the Paul Manafort trial. Our justice correspondent Jessica Schneider is outside the courthouse in Alexandria, Virginia.

Update our viewers, Jessica.

What's just happened?

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Paul Manafort guilty on eight separate counts, including bank fraud, tax fraud and hiding foreign bank accounts. And when the judge informed Paul Manafort of this guilty verdict in part, Paul Manafort stared straight ahead as he stood before the judge.

He did not smile. And he showed no emotion. Now Paul Manafort, the former campaign chairman of President Trump, he's now facing up to 80 years in prison. Let me break it down for you.

This jury found Paul Manafort guilty on eight of the 18 counts. Five counts were tax fraud charges. One was hiding a foreign bank account and two charges they found him guilty on, bank fraud. All of those counts in total carry up to 80 years in prison. The bank fraud charges carrying 30 years each.

This is a harsh reality for Paul Manafort, especially after four days of deliberations, where his defense team showed an upbeat, positive attitude. Their mantra was the longer that this jury took deliberating, the better chances were for Paul Manafort.

But today, Paul Manafort learning his fate on eight of those counts. Ten of those counts the jury could not come to an agreement on. Now prosecutors need to tell the judge by August 29th whether or not they plan to move forward with a retrial on those 10 counts only.

But a stunning moment or few moments in court, Wolf. Paul Manafort showing no emotion and he has shown really no emotion throughout this trial. Paul Manafort's wife, Kathy, has been here throughout the proceedings, throughout the deliberations. She also showed no emotion, just sitting there simply clasping her hands in her lap. But a day that Paul Manafort now knows he's been found guilty on eight counts -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jessica, do we expect to hear from members of the jury?

SCHNEIDER: It is unknown at this point. But the likely guess is that we won't hear from this jury. The jury has told the judge they do not want their names released. That was a question a little bit earlier whether or not the judge might release their names.

He decided he wouldn't and the jury today stressing they do not want their names released. In addition, the judge told the jury he recommends to them, he suggests that they stay --


SCHNEIDER: -- quiet, that they not talk to the media. The judge said that this is not a mandate. This is not something that they have to do.

But the judge put it this way. He said, I suggest to you that you have a duty of confidentiality. So it remains to be seen if the jurors will talk. By all indications they might not and might obey what the judge's wishes are and say they don't want their identities released -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Paul Manafort found guilty on eight counts. Jessica, we'll get back to you. I want to go to CNN's Kara Scannell outside the federal courthouse in New York City, where President Trump's one time fixer and lawyer, Michael Cohen, taken a plea deal himself.

Update our viewers on the very latest.

KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Court just ended, where Michael Cohen pled guilty to eight criminal counts, including personal tax evasion, filing a false statement to a bank and two charges of campaign finance violations.

During the hearing, which was pretty rapid fire, the judge went through everything quickly. Michael Cohen was composed, very confident and spoke very authoritatively admitting the crimes to the judge.

Now as part of this deal, Cohen is -- has an agreement with prosecutors but the judge is not bound for it, receiving a prison sentence between 46 months and 63 months in prison. He also offered a moment of levity when the judge had asked him if he had had any -- consumed drugs or alcohol the night before.

He said last night he had a glass of scotch on the rocks. But the heart of the matter is the fact from acknowledging he did not pay taxes for five years, he also described the campaign finance violations.

And in Michael Cohen's own words, he said, in coordination and at the direction of the candidate for federal office. And then went on to describe two payments without identifying anyone by name.

But the payments themselves we know and we have covered, which is a $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels and a $150,000 payment that Michael Cohen he said helped arrange with the CEO of a media company at the request of the candidate. That company is American Media, the publisher of the "National Enquirer," which we know had purchased the rights to Karen McDougal's story and McDougal has alleged an affair with now President Donald Trump. In Michael Cohen's own words today, he's described that he committed

campaign finance violations in coordination and at the direction of the candidate for federal office. He did not identify President Trump by name.

But we know by the activities that he was working for Trump. He has been Trump's long time fixer. He's worked for him for 10 years as the president's personal attorney -- Wolf.

BLITZER: This is a huge, huge deal. As you know, Kara, and it could be a huge problem for the President of the United States when his long time lawyer and fixer implicates him in this federal courthouse.

SCANNELL: It's really a stunning development, Wolf. I mean, the president is not charged, of course, in this matter. The Justice Department guidelines preclude indicting a sitting president.

But Michael Cohen in his own words defying his long time ally. He has said he would take a bullet for President Trump. And now he's publicly saying in court under oath that he committed these crimes in coordination and at the direction of the then candidate.

BLITZER: Very specific words.

Could Cohen still cooperate with the special counsel Robert Mueller's overall Russia probe?

As you know, Mueller delegated this case to the U.S. attorney in the Southern District of New York.

SCANNELL: That's right, Wolf. This investigation began by a referral from Robert Mueller. But as part of this plea agreement, Michael Cohen is not, you know, cooperating. He is not in some kind of cooperation deal with the U.S. attorney's office in Manhattan, which brought this case.

But nothing precludes him from speaking with Robert Mueller's investigators or from them reaching out to Michael Cohen. He's not under any obligation to cooperate with them. But he certainly can cooperate with them. And it's, you know, it is not off the table that he would try to cooperate with them -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We're standing by. You see the microphones out there, outside the federal courthouse in New York. We expect to hear from prosecutors and potentially others, as well. We will have live extensive coverage here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Kara, stand by, as well. I want to bring in our legal analyst Joey Jackson and our crime and justice reporter Shimon Prokupecz.

Shimon, first to you.

What else are you learning?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE PRODUCER: Just really stunning when you think about it here, the fact that they're saying that it was in coordination and at the direction of a candidate for federal office, meaning the president. You cannot get any more serious here, any more direct link here to the president. You know, the president has --


BLITZER: Hold on one second. We see Michael Cohen leaving the federal courthouse right there. Let's listen to see if he says anything.


BLITZER: Clearly walking pretty quickly. Didn't stop at the microphones. Maybe we'll hear from his attorneys. We certainly will be hearing from the federal prosecutors in New York for the U.S. attorney in the Southern District in New York in Manhattan.

Shimon, I interrupted you; go ahead and finish your thought.

PROKUPECZ: I was just saying, you cannot get a more direct link really to the president. You have Michael Cohen, in his own words, standing there before a judge, taking an oath, pleading guilty to these charges and admitting that he did this on behalf of the president.

The other thing, what's interesting, we now understand why the FBI's public corruption unit was investigating this. Right?

You have these campaign finance laws. You have money that was being paid to keep things secret from the public during the election. All of that very, very serious.

And clearly, when Robert Mueller came upon this, he thought he needed to be further investigated and he referred it to the Southern District and the FBI went with it and just a stunning day here.

Really just changes everything, Wolf, in terms of this investigation, in terms of how it relates to the president, in terms of what the president knew, in terms of what the president was doing and in terms of the conversations that he was having with Michael Cohen and directing him to do this.

BLITZER: It is really stunning when you think about this, Joey Jackson. I want your legal analysis.

When Michael Cohen says that he helped orchestrate $150,000 payment to Karen McDougal, $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels at -- in his words, in coordination and at the direction of the candidate of federal office -- he's referring to the then Republican presidential candidate only weeks before the presidential election, Donald Trump.

JOEY JACKSON, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: That's absolutely right. So let's look at big picture here. All right, Wolf?

No matter how you slice this, no matter what political spin, this is a horrific day for the White House, horrific. All right? You will have pundits come out, they'll say various things. They'll spin it however they will. Let's speak facts if we can for a minute. Everyone speaks to the issue of cooperation. It's not predicated on the cooperation agreement.

Are you kidding me?

What he said in the court, implicit in his allocution.

What is an allocution?

When you plead guilty, you have to make representation to the court. You hear the representation about the scotch, OK. It's funny. But the judge wants to know, are you of clear mind, are you competent, are you responsible, are you on anything?

Because a judge wants to know that you're lucid and you can answer questions responsibly.

In answer to the question, he says, that in coordination and at the direction of someone, right?

We know that someone of and concerning the president. Implicit in his statements that he's making to the court is his cooperation in stating that, look, I did break these laws but I did not act unilaterally. I acted at that guy's direction. Are you kidding?

That's majorly significant. We call that conspiracy. It's an agreement that two people have to violate the law. The person he's talking about who violated the law is the White House, is the President of the United States.

So then it turns to the question of what if anything will Congress do about it to the extent that you can't just go arrest the president. You can't just indict the president.

Now to be clear, these are his statements and you could certainly punch holes through a statement and say he's a liar and call him what you will. But this is huge and then you match it, Wolf, briefly, with what happened with Paul Manafort in getting convicted of eight counts.

And it's just horrific because now you have the long-term fixer of the president and the former campaign chairperson of the president, who has just been taken down. And so these developments are historic.

What will happen moving forward?

BLITZER: We're reading through the plea agreement right now, Shimon Prokupecz and others are getting it. We're also standing by to hear from the U.S. deputy attorney who's there.


BLITZER: Joey -- here's Manafort, Paul Manafort's lawyer in Alexandria, Virginia. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Manafort is disappointed of not getting acquittals all the way through or a complete hung jury on all counts. However, he would like to thank Judge Ellis for granting him a fair trial, thank the jury for their very long and hard-fought deliberations. He is evaluating all of his options at this point. Thank you, everyone.

BLITZER: All right. Not answering questions. That's the attorney representing Paul Manafort, the former Trump campaign chairman, who was found guilty on eight counts, five counts of tax fraud, two counts of bank fraud, one count of hiding foreign bank accounts.

He's found guilty. He potentially could face a couple hundred years in prison; he's 69 years old right now.

There was a hung jury on 10 other counts but guilty on these eight counts. Quickly going back to Joey Jackson in New York. He's watching all of this.


BLITZER: When the Trump long time personal attorney, for at least a decade, maybe a dozen years, a long time fixer, when he says that the President of the United States, now the president, then a Republican presidential candidate, a candidate of federal office, was coordinating with him the payments to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal only days before the presidential election, explain to our viewers why that potentially could be a violation of federal campaign finance laws.

JACKSON: Very simple. Because in the event you're going to issue or give something to your campaign, number one, you have to report what you're doing. This was not.

Number two, you're circumventing the system. There are limits with regard what you can contribute. Certainly, Trump himself could have --


BLITZER: Hold on one moment. Hold on. Here's the deputy U.S. attorney in New York, who's going to be making a statement.

ROBERT KHUZAMI, U.S. DEPUTY ATTORNEY, SDNY: OK. Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. My name's Robert Khuzami. I'm the deputy United States attorney for the Southern District of New York and the attorney for the United States in this matter.

With me is Bill Sweeney, assistant director in charge of the New York field office of the FBI, and James Robnett, who's the supervisory agent in charge for the New York office of the IRS.

Also with me are the prosecutors from the United States attorney's office in the Southern District of New York, who prosecuted the Cohen matter. I'm going to have a brief statement and will not be taking any questions. Today, as you heard, Michael Cohen pled guilty to eight felony

charges. Five of those dealt with tax evasion for the years 2012 through 2016, in which he failed to report approximately $4.1 million in reported income.

Approximately $2.5 million of that money was from interest payments from a personal loan that he failed to report; approximately $1.3 million of that money was from the operation of his taxi medallion business.

Approximately $100,000 of that money was from brokerage commissions and over $200,000 was from consulting fees. That's over $4.3 million over a five-year period which translates into a loss to the United States Treasury of approximately $1.3 million.

In addition, in count six, Mr. Cohen pled guilty to making false statements to a financial institution in connection with an application for a home equity line of credit.

In that application, he failed to disclose more than $14 million in debt that he had and, as a result of that concealment, he obtained that $500,000 line of credit, which he would not have been entitled to had he been candid and honest.

In addition, Mr. Cohen pled guilty to two campaign finance charges, one for causing an unlawful corporate contribution and a second one for personally making an excessive personal contribution, both for the purpose of influencing the 2016 election.

In addition, what he did was he worked to pay money to silence two women who had information that he believed would be detrimental to the 2016 campaign and to the candidate and the campaign.

In addition, Mr. Cohen sought reimbursement for that money by submitting invoices to the candidate's company which were untrue and false. They indicated that the reimbursement was for services rendered for the year 2017 when, in fact, those invoices were a sham.

He provided no legal services for the year 2017 and it was simply a means to obtain reimbursement for the unlawful campaign contribution.

A couple of points I'd like to make. First, these are very serious charges and reflect a pattern of lies and dishonesty over an extended period of time. They're significant in their own right.

They are particularly significant when done by a lawyer, a lawyer who, through training and tradition, understands what it means to be a lawyer, to engage in honest and fair dealing and adherence to the law.

Mr. Cohen disregarded that training, disregarded that tradition and decided that he was above the law and for that he's going to pay a very, very serious price.

With respect to the campaign finance violations, the campaign finance laws are designed to prevent the use of illegal money in elections and to maintain the integrity of those elections. Mr. Cohen -- [17:20:00]

KHUZAMI: -- made guilty pleas for those campaign violations and those are core violations.

And what he did was he -- these pleas remind us it's illegal for corporations to make contributions to candidates and it is illegal to make contributions in excess of the amount that Congress set for individuals. That is a strong message today and we will not be -- we will not fear prosecuting additional corporation -- campaign finance cases.

Lastly and perhaps most importantly, this case is unique in many ways. Just witness the gathering of all of you here today. And, in other ways, it is unique as well.

But in the really important ways, this case is not unlike many cases that my office, the United States attorney's office brings, that the entire Department of Justice brings and that the law enforcement agencies do as well, including the FBI and the IRS.

This case has more in common with all of those cases because they all share the same message. And that message is that the rule of law applies.

And that for law enforcement, all of whom are gathered here, it's our commitment that we'll pursue and vindicate (sic) those who choose to break the law and vindicate the majority of people who live law- abiding lives, who follow honest and fair dealing and live lives of lawful behavior.

The message is that we are here. Prosecutors are here. Law enforcement is here. The Department of Justice is here. The law enforcement agencies are here. We are a nation of laws.

And the essence of this case is about is justice and that is an equal playing field for all persons in the eyes of the law. And that is a lesson that Mr. Cohen learned today and it is a very harsh one for him. Thank you very much.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Who is the candidate you're talking about?

KHUZAMI: I'm sorry. One other thing. I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'd also like to introduce -- sorry. My fault. I really want to thank Mr. Sweeney and James Robnett of the FBI and the IRS and the agents who work for them. We do many, many cases with them.

And their determination and their fair dealing and their vigor with which they pursue their cases is really inspirational.

To the prosecutors in my office, I cannot express the gratitude for the hard work that they did in this case and that is assist the United States attorneys Andrea Griswold and Nick Ruess and Rachel Maimin and Tom McKay as well as Ed Descant (ph), the deputy chief of the public corruption unit, and Russell Capone, the chief of the public corruption unit. For all of these people, I could go on and on about their many virtues

and talents. But the one important thing is they all are satisfied with simply being known as public servants, prosecutors and law enforcement agents, who are doing their job. Thank you very much.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can they tell us who the candidate is?

BLITZER: All right. There you have the deputy U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York in Manhattan right there. Robert Khuzami saying that Michael Cohen has pled guilty now to eight felony charges, including two campaign finance violations, unlawful campaign contributions, in his words, and he will pay, according to the deputy U.S. attorney, a very serious price for all of this.

And directly implicating, according to Michael Cohen, in his statement before the federal judge, he was doing this, making these payments, orchestrating these payments to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal, hush money, if you will, hush money.

And he said he was doing it, quote, "in coordination and at the direction of a candidate for federal office." We're talking about the then Republican presidential candidate for President of the United States. That would be Donald Trump. Very, very serious allegations, indeed, a huge bombshell.

Shimon Prokupecz, I know you have been carefully going through the written statement that was signed by the U.S. attorney, signed by Michael Cohen, the other attorneys, as well.

PROKUPECZ: That's right, Wolf. Really, this is the plea agreement. What we're waiting for is the information, which is going do give us a lot of the details that we're looking for. The plea agreement goes over what the different counts are and what the money that Michael Cohen would forfeiture, also the exposure, the jail time he's facing, which we've been already talking about.

But I want to point something out, Wolf. This prosecutor who just spoke is the number two person at the Southern District of New York, the main person who is the U.S. attorney there had to --


PROKUPECZ: -- recuse himself from the case because he was appointed by the president.

But keep in mind of what he said here. The lesson here is that we are a nation of laws and that justice is an equal playing field. Right?

And just think about what all of this means and how the president has continued to attack the Department of Justice, how the president has continued to attack the FBI.

And here they are, the FBI in New York doing this investigation, now essentially implicating him and saying that he directed, that he was coordinating with Michael Cohen in these payments.

One point: Michael Cohen, when he was pleading guilty, told the court that this was done, quote, "for the principal purpose of influencing the election."

And a lot of time we have spent on other people influencing the election, the Russians. But this could potentially be the bigger problem for the president now in that you have his former personal lawyer who stood before a court in the public, pleaded guilty, admitted before a judge under oath that he was doing this on behalf of the President of the United States.

BLITZER: You know, it's very interesting. You make a good point. Robert Khuzami, The deputy U.S. attorney in New York, he was -- he was in charge of the prosecution. The U.S. attorney, Geoffrey Berman, recused himself because he was named by President Trump. And he thought that would be inappropriate.

Joey Jackson, give us your reaction to what we just heard from Robert Khuzami.

JACKSON: Devastating. Look. Here's the issue. We know that this was a plea agreement. In light of that, there's an allocution. You indicate specifically what you did. In the indication, Michael Cohen, of what he did. He said he acted at the direction of the president.

Now very critical, didn't say that, but it was of and concerning and clear who he was talking about. So let's be clear about this. It's not a trial. Now it has the same import as a trial pleading guilty. As if you went to trial and were convicted by a jury.

Why is that significant?

It's significant because, now that you have implicated the president, what you are looking for is not only Michael Cohen's words but you're going to be looking, if you're going to take down the president, what, if any, corroboration exists?

Since there was not a trial, without a trial what you do is put the government to their proof. You cross-examine everything, you question everything. That didn't happen because he pled guilty and he said this is what occurred.

Now you want to look at what other documentary evidence exists, if any, corroborating the statement he made, that I did it because the president told me to. Again, I'm using that loosely. He did not say that.

But we know specifically who he's referring to. And if, Wolf, if there's corroboration for what he's saying so we're not just basing it upon Michael Cohen's word, we have some serious problems and we are in a critical time in our history.

Now it's going to be left up to the Congress as to what they're going to do about it because we know that you just don't indict a sitting president. It's a political process; whereas Congress, the House of Representatives have to act and then the Senate by two-thirds vote to impeach. So we are there. This is a big day in our history.

BLITZER: It certainly is. I want you to stand by.

Shimon, stand by, as well. Democratic congressman Joaquin Castro of Texas is joining us, he's a key member of both the Intelligence and Foreign Affairs Committees.

Let me get your quick reaction. Stunning news in New York.

REP. JOAQUIN CASTRO (D-TEXAS), MEMBER, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: It is. I mean, today we witnessed the President of the United States go from the frying pan into the fire, moving not just from political liability or a bad situation with Russia, collusion and so forth, to perhaps legal liability now.

And the question has come up a few times about what the Congress will do. And I can't say for sure what the Congress will do.

But I believe that the Judiciary Committee in both the House and the Senate should take this issue up immediately and should start to hold hearings of what happened, call in the folks who can corroborate what the president may have done, according to Michael Cohen, call in the people from American Media, the man who owns the "Enquirer," for example, and corroborate what was said by Michael Cohen.

The president's personal lawyer, somebody who's kept his secrets, somebody who's been not just a lawyer but a confidant to this president has made very serious allegations about the president's behavior.

BLITZER: Do you believe the President of the United States committed a crime?

CASTRO: It certainly seems that way, based on what Michael Cohen said. He's violated campaign finance laws.

BLITZER: If you believe Michael Cohen what he told this federal judge, in terms of coordinating these payments to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal.

CASTRO: He did it, Wolf. It's important to note that he did it to win the presidential election. But he also may have obstructed justice if he asked people like Sarah Sanders or other White House aides, once he was in the White House, to lie about it as well.

BLITZER: The Senate Intelligence Committee, the chairman and the ranking Democrat, they came out a little while ago and they said they want to reengage with Michael Cohen, irrespective of his guilty plea right now.

Do you have confidence that the Republican majority in the --


BLITZER: -- House of Representatives -- and you're a member of the House -- is going to do anything about this? CASTRO: Wolf, it is one of those things where you always hope for the best.

But do I believe that they'll necessarily do the right thing right now?

Do I have faith in that?

Honestly, no, I don't. They should.

But can I tell you right now that they will?

No. I would say, if the Intelligence Committees in both chambers want to take it up again, that's great. What this provides, though, everything going forward from now on, I believe, should be done 100 percent out in the open so that the public can see what's going on, because it's moved to another level of seriousness.

BLITZER: Do you believe Michael Cohen?

CASTRO: I do. I led the interview with him for Democrats, along with Adam Schiff, our ranking member --


BLITZER: When he appeared before the House Intelligence Committee; that was behind closed doors?

CASTRO: That's behind closed doors. The transcript still has not been released. We should release that transcript so that the American people can read it and make a judgment for themselves.

BLITZER: Going back to the 2016, June 2016 meeting over at Trump Tower with the Russians and his campaign chairman, his son, his son- in-law, do you believe that the president -- at that time he was then the Republican candidate -- had advance knowledge of what was about to happen at that meeting, what it was all about?

CASTRO: You know, the final resolution on that question, we don't have yet. There was a mysterious blocked phone call made and received right around the time, in the same time period when that meeting was being set up by Donald Trump Jr.

Because the House Intelligence Committee and, as far as I know, the Senate Intelligence Committee never issued a subpoena to AT&T to get the phone records of who was on that call, we don't know.

In my gut, do I think it's quite possible that President Trump knew?

Yes. But again, that's something that should have been subpoenaed. And perhaps Robert Mueller knows the answer to that question.

BLITZER: On the same day that Paul Manafort, the campaign chairman for the Trump campaign, he's found guilty on eight counts, could spend many, many years in prison right now, 69 years old.

Your reaction to that?

Ten of the counts there was a hung jury on.

CASTRO: Think about that for a second. On a split screen basically today, you have the man who the president entrusted to be his campaign manager.

BLITZER: Chairman.

CASTRO: The chairman. But basically, the number one person, maybe number two person in the campaign, going to court, getting convicted. And then his personal lawyer of many years, his confidant, his fixer, also making a plea agreement and will be sentenced later on.

This is a horrible day for the president but really also a horrible day for the United States of America.

BLITZER: We're standing by. The president arriving in West Virginia. He's got a campaign rally going on. You see Air Force One over there. You see some members of the media walking out of the back steps. Maybe walking down the stairs on the front of the plane he'll say something, he might answer a question or two. We'll stand by for that. We'll show our viewers live pictures.

But your bottom line right now, where do we go from here?

CASTRO: I think the Congress, the House of Representatives and the Senate need to take up this investigation immediately and it needs to be done out in the open.

BLITZER: We'll see if that happens, what happens between now and the midterm elections. That could be critically important, as well. Thank you so much, Congressman Castro, for joining us.

CASTRO: Thank you.

BLITZER: Jeffrey Toobin is our chief legal analyst. He is with us right now, as well.

Jeffrey, give us your analysis on what's happened on this historic day here in the United States.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SR. LEGAL ANALYST: Well, there are many important events that took place today, virtually simultaneously.

But the thing that is of the most significance -- and it is of immense significance -- is that Michael Cohen implicated Donald Trump in a federal crime. He said that his violation of campaign finance laws was in coordination with and at the direction of Donald Trump.

That means that, according to this guilty plea, Donald Trump was a co- conspirator and/or an aider and abettor of this crime. That is, in and of itself, something of such great significance that I don't even think it has a parallel during Watergate.

No one, I believe, pled guilty during the -- during the Nixon presidency, tying the president so directly into a federal crime. What happens as a result of that, if anything, is a very different question.

But the -- you know, for a long time, we had heard from the president's supporters, well, this has nothing to do with Donald Trump. It has to do with the Ukraine, many years ago. This brings the scandal right to the door of the White House.

BLITZER: Explain potentially what was illegal, if there was coordination and direction from the then Republican candidate Donald Trump with Michael Cohen, his --


BLITZER: -- long time fixer and lawyer, in securing what were widely seen as these hush money agreements with Karen McDougal and Stormy Daniels.

TOOBIN: Well, a couple of different possibilities. First of all, as a purely dollar value, outsiders are only allowed to contribute a certain amount. I believe it's $5,300 per election. This is -- this was well in excess of that.

But more importantly, it has to do with the reporting requirements, is that there are requirements that all money that goes in to a presidential campaign has to be accounted for.

It has to -- you have to identify the source and you have to identify how the money was spent. The question -- what happened here was that this money, both to Stormy Daniels and to the "Playboy" Playmate, were campaign contributions. But they weren't reported as such.

And the reason they weren't reported as such is because the Trump campaign -- and we need to know who exactly was involved with this -- didn't want the public to know that this was part of the Trump campaign, keeping these women silent.

So the real heart of the issue here is covering up the cause, these campaign expenditures, because the Trump campaign didn't want them known publicly.

BLITZER: You heard Robert Khuzami, the deputy U.S. attorney in New York, saying he's pled guilty to two -- Michael Cohen has pled guilty to two counts of unlawful campaign contributions.

And you heard Michael Cohen in the federal courtroom today saying he did that in, quote, "in coordination and at the direction of a candidate of federal office," referring to candidate Donald Trump.

This happening only a few weeks before the presidential election in November of 2016. I want you to stand by, Jeffrey. Jim Acosta is our chief White House correspondent and he's already in Charleston, West Virginia.

The president getting ready to hold a campaign rally on this important night and we're looking at live pictures from Air Force One. He is about to walk down those stairs.

You are getting more reaction, more information, Jim.

What are you learning?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. He just landed here in West Virginia for a rally later on this evening. He has not answered reporters' questions so far about the day's developments regarding Paul Manafort and Michael Cohen.

And we should also mention the White House press secretary, Sarah Sanders, she was asked by our Jeremy Diamond for a comment earlier this afternoon. She did not have a comment when it comes to those questions about Michael Cohen and Paul Manafort.

But, Wolf, what we can report is I'm told by a source close to the White House that they were over at the White House, hoping for a very different day, hoping for a favorable verdict in the Paul Manafort case, because they were planning to use that favorable verdict, either a mistrial or a not guilty verdict, to attack the Mueller investigation.

That was the plan for the White House and their aides, advisers and supporters out in the Republican Party, in conservative circles. That obviously did not come to pass.

And as for the Michael Cohen case, I'm told by the same source that the plan over at the White House --


BLITZER: Hold on a moment, Jim, I want to see if he answers reporters' questions. Stand by for a moment.

All right. So there's the president. There were shouted questions from reporters. He clearly ignored those questions. He's got a little welcoming reception there in Charleston. Hold on for one more moment.

TRUMP: I feel badly (INAUDIBLE). I must tell you that Paul Manafort's a good man. He was with Ronald Reagan. He was with a lot of different people over the years. And I feel very sad about that. Doesn't involve me but I still feel, you know, it is a very sad thing that happened. This has nothing to do with Russia and collusion.

This started as Russia and collusion. This has absolutely nothing to do. This is a witch hunt and a disgrace. This has nothing to do what they started out looking for, Russians involved in our campaign. There were none.

I feel very badly for Paul Manafort. Again, he worked for Bob Dole. He worked for Ronald Reagan. He worked for many, many people.

And just --

[17:40:00] TRUMP: -- the way it ends up. It was not the original mission. Believe me. It was something very much different. So had nothing to do with Russia and collusion. We continue the witch hunt. Thank you very much.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. President, what about Michael Cohen?


TRUMP: Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Any comment on Michael Cohen?

TRUMP: We got to move.

BLITZER: All right. So there you heard the president. He made a gesture, walked over to reporters standing on the tarmac, over there in Charleston, West Virginia, defending Paul Manafort, who was found guilty at eight counts, felony counts. Paul Manafort, the president said, is a good man. It's a very sad thing that happened to him today.

He said repeatedly this had nothing to do with Russia and collusion, he called it once again a witch hunt, a disgrace, quote, "I feel badly for Paul Manafort," he reminded all of us that Paul Manafort, at one point in his political career, worked for Bob Dole and for Ronald Reagan. And once again, he ended with nothing to do with collusion.

The president then walked away, he heard some questions shouted on the Michael Cohen guilty plea in New York. He ignored those questions. But you can see the president, very, very angry that Paul Manafort, his campaign chairman, was found guilty on eight counts, eight felony counts, could potentially spend the rest of his life in jail.

The president certainly has the option, if he wants to do it down the road, of issuing a pardon for Paul Manafort. Clearly, he's very sympathetic to Paul Manafort. But let's get some reaction to what we just heard.

Jim Acosta, you are there already in Charleston, getting ready for the rally. We'll hear what the president has to say at this political rally. But you heard a strong defense of Paul Manafort, found guilty on eight counts today.

ACOSTA: That's right. That's right, Wolf. You could hear the president trying to put distance between himself and Paul Manafort in real time and repeating this notion that he's repeated before, that essentially Paul Manafort is a long-time Republican political operative, worked for Ronald Reagan and Bob Dole and so on, trying to say, well, I essentially just did what some of these other Republican candidates did and hiring Paul Manafort.

But, Wolf, obviously, when the president said that there's no collusion, that this case nothing to do with collusion and that it's a rigged witch hunt, obviously we should point out that the Mueller investigation is not yet wrapped up. But what you are seeing here is the White House fumbling for a

response to how to handle this avalanche of very negative, troubling legal news for the president.

As I was saying, just before the president spoke there, they had other plans. The White House had hoped for a favorable outcome in the Manafort trial. They were going to use that to pummel the Mueller investigation. They were also planning to talk about the Cohen case in terms of his taxi cab business dealings.

Now that it's come out that Michael Cohen, his long time fixer, has pled guilty to conspiring and being in some sort of arrangement with the president to pay off people towards the end of that campaign, including Stormy Daniels, that obviously takes that case into another whole dimension.

Now we have the president potentially, the President of the United States, potentially implicated in a federal crime.

Wolf, it does not get more serious or more troubling than that. And I think it was interesting that the president talked about that as he arrived in West Virginia, talked about the Manafort case. Did not talk about the Michael Cohen case. The Michael Cohen case potentially has the president immediately right now in very deep legal jeopardy.

We'll also be listening at this rally in just a short while to see if the president comments on this in front of the crowd of the supporters. This might be the shot in the arm he needs. In these moments, as we have seen with the Mueller investigation, he likes to tweet out his frustrations. He may try to get out those frustrations in front of the rally later on this evening -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I suspect we'll hear him say plenty, that this whole thing is a witch hunt, a disgrace, as we just heard him say right now. But you correctly point out he didn't answer reporters' questions on Michael Cohen, who also pleaded guilty today to eight counts, including two counts of federal campaign contribution violations.

I want to go to Shimon Prokupecz, who's been going through the documents on all of this right now.

The serious charge leveled by Michael Cohen, who's an attorney himself, that the president was fully aware of what he was doing in arranging these hush money payments to Karen McDougal and Stormy Daniels.

The -- Michael Cohen saying in federal court, all this was done, quote, "in coordination and at the direction of a candidate for federal office," which would clearly be an illegal campaign contribution under federal law. And clearly he was referring to Donald Trump. Go ahead.

What else are you learning?

PROKUPECZ: That's right, Wolf. Not only that, he then also says this is being done to influence the election. So you have to wonder, really, if the president, if Donald Trump was not the president, would we be looking at a very different scenario here in that Michael Cohen would wind up cooperating and, in fact, we all said who would be the big fish here.

Well, it's the president; Donald Trump wasn't the president, he could potentially be indicted. So perhaps he here would be the big fish and we would be looking at a very different situation.

[17:45:06] Keep in mind, based on a lot of the reporting that, you know, we did here at CNN, that there was a lot of concern that the -- through the FBI and, really, the U.S. Attorney's Office there in New York, that they couldn't indict the President. So the idea that they would Michael Cohen as a cooperator was pretty difficult because he couldn't really bring them anything.

And it -- what these court papers really make clear, that if there was an indictment here, that the President, Donald Trump, would likely be an unindicted co-conspirator. And that is significant on so many, so many levels. But, really, I think everyone is saying this right today, Wolf, that this just cannot get any worse for the President.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Yes. This is a -- this document that you have been going through, I've been going through, United States versus Michael Cohen, signed by the attorney -- the U.S. Attorney -- the Deputy Attorney Robert Khuzami, but also signed by Michael Cohen, also signed by the attorney for Michael Cohen, Guy Petrillo who used to be an attorney -- a U.S. attorney in the criminal division in the Southern Division of New York as well. It's got a lot of details in this document.

Laura Coates, I know you've been going through all of these as well. What is your reaction?

LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, we now know precisely why Lanny Davis played that audio recording on air. That actually gives them corroboration to one of the counts he plead guilty to, the conversation between himself and Donald Trump about the payment, the money.

It implicated David Pecker from the American Media, Incorporated as well. It also was mentioned about somebody who he was using to facilitate these campaign contributions.

Ultimately, you have here more than one indication, the President's own statements on the back of Air Force One, his statements on that audio recording that was given by one particular person, and now you have the statements in open court by Michael Cohen saying that it was at the direction of and made to influence the election.

All this combines to say that the President of the United States has exponential legal jeopardy now being exposed to himself and of his own doing, particularly given one of the people who was a part of this campaign was Don McGahn, who was a former FEC Commissioner, who would know very well about federal campaign finance violations and reporting requirements. And now we see that that person just spent 30 hours talking to Robert Mueller. BLITZER: He is the White House Counsel.

COATES: The White House Counsel now, but formerly part of the Trump campaign and formerly, before that, with the FEC. Now, you see the dovetailing coming together.

And I suspect that maybe the reason that, in the background of Jim Acosta's reporting, you heard the song "Don't Stop Believing" playing to rally up the troops in West Virginia because they fully expect that the credibility is on the line permanently.

BLITZER: Well, let me go back to Jeffrey Toobin and get some more analysis from him. You've had a chance now to review some of the documents as well, Jeffrey. What do you think?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I think, you know, at a minimum, the President would be named as an unindicted co- conspirator in Michael Cohen's campaign violation. It's entirely possible if he were not president of the United States that he would be an indicted co-conspirator, that he was an indispensable player in this campaign finance violation.

Because, remember, who benefited here? It wasn't Michael Cohen. Michael Cohen wasn't running for president. The whole point of this illegal campaign contribution was to benefit Donald Trump, and now Michael Cohen is asserting that it was done at the direction of Donald Trump. So why would Michael Cohen be -- exclusively be prosecuted and not Donald Trump for a crime like this?

But, remember, he is President of the United States and there is a Justice Department policy -- it's a policy. It's not a law, it's not in the constitution, it doesn't necessarily have to be followed. But it is a policy that the President cannot be indicted.

But what we have here and what went on in open court today is a very explicit statement by Michael Cohen, in effect, endorsed by the Southern District of New York, that Donald Trump also committed a federal crime in campaign finance violations.

BLITZER: And it's significant, Mark Preston, that the President, when he walked down the stairs of Air Force One, he went over to reporters, made a strong statement in support of Paul Manafort, his former campaign chairman who was found guilty on eight counts, felony courts, today in a federal court in Alexandria Virginia, but he didn't say anything about Michael Cohen at all.

This is a president who is usually not shy about speaking out, but he avoided anything in response to shouted questions from reporters about Michael Cohen.

MARK PRESTON, CNN EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF POLITICAL PROGRAMMING: Right, Wolf. And if you're just tuning right now, he literally just made these comments just a few moments ago. And we were all struggling to hear him, to hear what he was saying. He was very focused on Manafort. He would not answer any questions about Cohen.

You know, when you look at what's happening right now, I think we have to just look at the totality of the situation.

You have the former campaign chairman for the President of the United States, somebody who was instrumental in making sure that he got the nomination in Cleveland, who has been indicted or has been convicted on eight counts of tax evasion and fraud.

[17:50:08] You have the personal lawyer, somebody who we all know to be very close to Donald Trump, who has pled guilty to eight different counts. This is on the same day, hours apart. This is stunning.

BLITZER: Yes. And Rachael Bade is with us as well.

Rachael, Michael Cohen, in this federal court in New York today, didn't only say that the President of the United States coordinated and directed the payment to Stormy Daniels of $130,000 only days before the presidential election in November of 2016, but also did the same thing with Karen McDougal, the former Playmate that received $150,000 through American Media, the parent company of the "National Enquirer," that he helped orchestrate that with the direction and coordination of Donald Trump.

RACHAEL BADE, TAX REPORTER, POLITICO: Yes, two facets of legal exposure as we have been talking about, you know, all day, all afternoon. Listen, beyond the legal questions, there's a lot of political exposure here too.

There's been a lot of focus on legal -- will prosecutors, can they come after the President right now? Will they have to wait?

But listen, Congress has the power to impeach. And right now, Republicans control Congress. They're obviously not going to impeach the President. They probably won't investigate this because they're afraid of him.

But there is a big midterm election coming in just two-and-a-half months. And this really elevates the argument that Democrats have been making that the White House, you know, is corrupt, is what they're going to say.

They're going to point to this specifically and say you need to put Democrats in power. We need to hold this president accountable. And that could really help the Democrats in the midterm election. When this sort of issue before was not something voters really cared about, it really puts it front and center.

BLITZER: You know, Joey Jackson, what was your reaction when you heard the President just now say that Paul Manafort, convicted today on eight felony counts, is a good man? It's a very sad thing, what happened to him. This had nothing to do with Russian collusion. It's all simply a witch-hunt and a disgrace, and I feel very badly for Paul Manafort.

Legally, what's your reaction when you hear the President say that?

JOEY JACKSON, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, Wolf -- well, two things. Understanding that this will be political in nature, and I want to piggyback off of what Rachael said momentarily but in direct answer to your question, that's the narrative. It's a witch-hunt, it's ridiculous, it's outrageous. Look what they're doing to a good man.

And so the other thing that comes to my mind, unlike the narrative that he's giving, right, is the issue of whether he'll pardon him.

But let's go right to the core points that Rachael made because they're very important. This is a legal process, yes, but it is a political process as it relates to the President of the United States.

Two points to make then. Number one, the midterm elections are overwhelmingly significant. Why? Because if you have a shift in the Congress from Republican to Democratic, you will have an appetite to actually look at what's happening here.

And in the event that you don't only have Michael Cohen's words and an allocution pleading to the judge about what exactly he did and acted in direction of but you have documentary evidence, something that substantiates this -- you have reports, you have texts, you have e- mails -- that makes it worse.

And so now I think that a Democratic Congress will have an appetite to investigate, to get to the bottom of it. And if you have a majority of the House of Representatives to impeach, that then sends it over to the Senate where he is really in jeopardy.

Last point. And that is, yes, although we have a Republican Congress now, in the event that the American people come to know and to understand that there could be crimes here of which he was actually implicated, right -- and to Jeffrey Toobin's point, I agree wholeheartedly -- in the event he wasn't president, he could very well have been a co-defendant in that courtroom today.

If you have Republicans, you know, they may -- may, based on political will, say, you know what, we really have to take a closer look at it, and if Republicans look at it, boy, he's in for a world of hurt.

BLITZER: Go ahead, Jeffrey.

JACKSON: So I think the midterm elections are important.

TOOBIN: Well, Wolf, can I add one point here? Wolf?

BLITZER: Yes, go ahead.

TOOBIN: Yes, there's one legal issue that, I think, we're going to start to hear a lot about and that's the issue of, will Michael Cohen be given immunity? He has now pleaded guilty to crimes.

There is no risk that, you know, you will jeopardize a prosecution of Michael Cohen because it's already over. But Robert Mueller has the power to give him immunity and force him to testify in the grand jury.

Another idea. If the Democrats retake the House of Representatives -- putting aside the whole issue of impeachment, simply as an investigatory matter -- the House Judiciary Committee, which, if the Democrats win, will be chaired by Jerry Nadler, a liberal Democrat from New York, they could give Michael Cohen immunity and force him to testify in public about what he knew about Donald Trump's involvement in illegal campaign contributions in the 2016 campaign.

Once you get immunity, you have no choice but to testify. It's not a question of cooperating or not cooperating. If you get immunity and you are called to testify, either in the grand jury or in front of Congress, you've got to show up or you go to jail.

[17:55:06] BLITZER: Yes.

TOOBIN: So the fact that Michael Cohen may not have signed a cooperation agreement may not be as important as the fact that he is now someone who could get immunity, forced to testify in the Mueller investigation, forced to testify in front of Congress, if, of course, the Democrats retake it in November.

BLITZER: Very significant statements. Everybody, standby. There is breaking news. A jury finds President Trump's former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, guilty of eight tax fraud and bank charges, but the President calls Manafort a good man and calls the Russia investigation a witch-hunt.

And the President's one-time lawyer and fixer, Michael Cohen, he pleads guilty to fraud charges along with campaign finance violations, making it clear he paid hush money at the direction of Donald Trump.

I'll speak to the lawyer for Stormy Daniels, Michael Avenatti. Lots more on the breaking news coming up.