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Mueller: Manafort Lied About Contacts with Administration This Year; NY Prosecutors Recommend "Substantial Term of Imprisonment" for Michael Cohen; Robert Mueller Releases New Court Filings on Paul Manafort and Michael Cohen. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired December 7, 2018 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.
We want to welcome our viewers here in the United States and around the world.
We're following breaking news on the president's former fixer and lawyer Michael Cohen and the Russia investigation.
Two court filings just released, one by the special counsel, Robert Mueller, the other by prosecutors in New York, and there's new information about Cohen's cooperation, what it could mean for President Trump and for Michael Cohen, as the feds in New York argue he should get substantial prison time.
Right now, Robert Mueller also is set to file a secret document on Paul Manafort, the former Trump campaign chairman, on why prosecutors believe Manafort lied.
There's lots of news to unfold right now.
I want to go first to our political correspondent, Sara Murray.
Sara, Mueller's document makes it clear that Michael Cohen was cooperating, but he's not necessarily suggesting he shouldn't get a substantial prison sentence.
SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: No, I think there's a reason that this was filed in tandem with the Southern District of New York, which took a much harsher tack on what Michael Cohen should serve in terms of prison time.
And the special counsel did lay out how cooperative Michael Cohen has been. They said he participated in seven interviews and he was not entirely forthcoming in the first one, but by the second one it sounds like Cohen came around and continued to participate.
And he really did divulge some information at the core of what the special counsel is looking into, in particular his own contacts with Russians and another contact from a Russian national that we were not necessarily aware of before. This one was in November 2015, so very early in the campaign.
It was a Russian national who was essentially trying to set up meetings between Vladimir Putin and then-candidate Donald Trump. This person said the campaign could offer political synergy and synergy on a government level by synching up Russian interests and American interests.
This is really telling about how early the Russians were trying to make inroads with the campaign, but, of course, we know the core of what Michael Cohen did to get himself in hot water with the special counsel was making these false statements to Congress, lying to Congress about the Moscow project and insisting that it was wrapped up much earlier than it was and downplaying Donald Trump's role in that process.
BLITZER: Well, Mueller says that Cohen lied to investigators about the Trump Tower in Moscow deal. So how damaging potentially could that be to the president?
MURRAY: Well, I think we don't know the full extent of what the president knew. What is clear, what we know from Michael Cohen at this point is that he did keep President Trump in the loop, then candidate Trump, in the loop about the project longer than we realized.
This was a project Donald Trump downplayed in the campaign. He said, I have no business interests whatsoever in Russia. In reality, he could have made millions and millions of dollars on this. And what this latest document points out is that Michael Cohen provided this false testimony because -- in front of Congress because he wanted to protect Donald Trump.
The document said he did it in the hopes of limiting the investigations into possible Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, an issue of heightened national interest.
I think the other thing that's interesting about Cohen's lies around this Moscow project is the filing from Mueller's office notes that there are a couple of ways that Cohen was helpful to the special counsel. One was talking about his contacts with people connected to the White House during 2017 and 2018, which gets into the question whether Michael Cohen may have helped with the obstruction of justice probe.
And it also talks about how he was circulating his testimony, his plans to respond to these congressional inquiries, with those in the White House. Of course, the big question is, you know, who saw that and if they knew it was false at the time, that Cohen was going out there and saying it.
BLITZER: And, Sara, only three minutes ago, the president issued this statement on Twitter. It is unclear what he is referring to. It says -- quote -- "Totally clears the president. Thank you!"
BLITZER: What -- you're laughing. I'm not exactly sure what the president is referring to.
MURRAY: Well, you know, I would say that there's nothing that totally clears the president because the document from the Southern District of New York continues to implicate President Trump. It says that he's the one who directed Michael Cohen to make payments to women during the campaign, so that's a clear implication.
And this latest one from Mueller's team, it doesn't directly implicate the president, but it also doesn't clear him. It says that Michael Cohen was out there making up a lot of lies to try to protect President Trump, and we know that Donald Trump not only went along with these lies, but parroted a lot of them during the campaign and once he was in the White House in terms of the Moscow project, but also his payments to women.
So I'm not sure how this exonerates him.
BLITZER: Yes, I'm not sure what he's -- maybe Jim Acosta, our chief White House correspondent, understands what the president is referring to.
You just saw the tweet as well, right, Jim?
JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf.
And Individual 1 uses roughly five or six words here. "Totally clears the president. Thank you!"
It is very strange, Wolf, to see the president tweet that. Obviously he is trying to send the message, you know -- and we will probably hear other things from him as the night goes on or perhaps tomorrow morning. He's trying to get the message out to his supporters as soon as possible that he feels what Michael Cohen is faced with, with this filing that went into the Southern District of New York earlier today somehow is beneficial to him.
But as you guys were just saying over the last hour or so, you go through all of these documents and obviously it doesn't clear the president. And as we saw earlier this morning, there was this blizzard of tweets from the president, a tweetstorm earlier today.
He was obviously very frustrated, obviously very concerned about what was going to unfold later on today. And it seems his immediate reaction, his initial reaction is that he feels like there's nothing really in this Cohen filing that's damaging to him.
Now, I mean, if -- as you have been saying a few moments ago, if you read through these documents, if you read through this filing, especially when you get to the part where Michael Cohen providing information to the special counsel's office about contacts with the White House, individuals associated with the White House in 2017 and 2018.
Perhaps the president has not read that portion of these documents or perhaps his lawyers haven't filled him in on that, but that obviously -- I mean, I would think that would be worrisome to any White House, especially for a White House that is on the verge of bringing in a new attorney general.
You know, that is just a universe of worries, I would think, for a White House, because they don't exactly know what specifically the special counsel's office is referring to there, but they are very much talking about contacts that Michael Cohen has relayed to the special counsel's investigators.
And, Wolf, I think the other thing that is very important and somewhat damaging in this filing from the special counsel's office with respect to Michael Cohen is, we have new information now about what was going on between Michael Cohen and Russians during the campaign, that Michael Cohen is now talking more extensively, according to the special counsel's office, about the contacts that the Trump campaign, that then-candidate Trump, his various spokespeople said was not going on.
So, you know, to me, that would be somewhat worrisome to the president. But if you weigh this against what he was saying earlier this morning, and it was just almost unhinged in terms of the tweets that were coming from the president, he was talking about all sorts of things.
He was using his usual superlatives in referencing the Mueller investigation. When you weigh that against this very brief tweet from the president in the last couple of minutes where he feels, you know, that he has totally cleared in all of this, he must feel in some way relieved by what is in this filing.
But, as we have all been noting, Wolf, over the last hour, he is certainly not out of the woods.
BLITZER: Yes, he certainly isn't. And that explains why earlier in the day in these series of tweets he was really attacking Robert Mueller, trying to undermine the entire investigation.
One line here, "Robert Mueller and leaking and lying James Comey are best friends, just one of many Mueller conflicts of interest." He also says, "Will Robert Mueller's big-time conflicts of interests be listed in the top of his Republicans-only report."
He is clearly going after Mueller in a brutal, brutal way.
ACOSTA: That's right, Wolf.
And I think, as everybody has been observing all day long, and he has been doing this for months now, Wolf, he is obviously trying to soften up the perception among his supporters as to what Robert Mueller's motives are.
He's been referring to 12 angry Democrats and so on working on the Mueller team, making very personal comments about members of Robert Mueller's team. This is obviously all designed to weigh on the minds of his supporters
and to sort of damage and soften up the way that his supporters look at the special counsel, overlooking the -- the president has overlooked on numerous occasions that Robert Mueller is a Republican and so on.
And so I think, Wolf, that this is all part of a public relations strategy that the president has been in the middle of for many, many months now.
I do think it is odd to see this very brief tweet from the president, but my sense of it is, is that he feels relieved based on what he has read so far, what has been read to him, explained to him in this filing this afternoon, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, stand by, because there's going to be another filing coming in from Mueller involving Paul Manafort, the former Trump campaign chairman.
Let me bring in Shimon Prokupecz.
Shimon, prosecutors from the Southern District of New York, they were not lenient on Michael Cohen at all. What did they tell the court?
SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, you're absolutely right. They were not.
And when you look at what the Southern District filed and then what the Mueller team filed, it is like two completely different positions. And here is how they describe it, how the Southern District describes Michael Cohen.
They say that he is an attorney and businessman who committed four distinct federal crimes over a period of several years. He was motivated to do so by personal greed and repeatedly used his power and influence for deceptive ends.
They say that he seeks "extraordinary leniency, a sentence of no jail time, based principally on his rose-colored view of the seriousness of the crimes. He claims to be of sympathetic personal history and has provision of certain information to law enforcement."
But key here is that the crimes they say committed by Cohen were more serious than his submission allows and were "marked by a pattern of deception that permeated his professional life."
So, they're clearly calling him an outright liar, that he continued to do so. And really they are not asking for a substantial amount of leniency here from the judge. They want him to do a lot of jail time for the charges that they have brought against him, Wolf.
BLITZER: Which of these Cohen filings do you read as more significant and possibly very damaging to the president? PROKUPECZ: Look, I think -- we already know what Cohen has implicated
in, in terms of the Southern District of New York, and that the payments, saying that he coordinated with him.
I think what is very significant here is what we see in the Cohen filing. How they describe his assistance is that he has provided -- he has been useful in four significant respects.
And this kind of lays out here what the Mueller investigation has been. We hear of contacts that they are now aware of between the company. That is presumably the Trump Organization. The president has talked about this red line, that if the Mueller team starts looking into his business dealings, he is going to have some concern with that.
And it is clear that that's what is going on here, that there was contact between the company and Russian interests during the campaign. There's a line here in the ways in which he is helping the special counsel, where he's providing relevant and useful information concerning his contacts with persons connected to the White House during the 2017-2018 time period.
That's recent. That's while the president is the president. That's not the campaign. That's not the transition. So there's clearly aspects of this investigation that are now deep into the White House.
And, really, I think the other thing that's so important here is they describe certain discrete Russia-related matter core to the special counsel's investigation that essentially he is providing help on. These are contacts with company executives that Russians have had during the campaign.
Again, we are seeing a lot of terminology in these Mueller documents about the company, company executives. Who are those company executives? And this suggests to me that the Mueller investigation is a little larger than just folks who perhaps were working on the campaign.
This is now going into the company, Trump's red line, his business dealings. So, we will see how he respond to this, but this clearly to me lays out exactly what the special counsel has been doing and where Michael Cohen has been significantly helpful to them.
BLITZER: Good point.
Jeffrey Toobin, you have had a chance to read, what, this 38-page document that the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York filed, the seven-page separate document that Robert Mueller, the special counsel, filed.
What are your major takeaways?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: OK, three of them, very simple.
The first one is, the Department of Justice, the Southern District of New York, which reports to the attorney general, who reports to the president, accuses the president in the most explicit ways of committing crimes. And this is specifically the money that went to Stormy Daniels and the money that went to Karen McDougal.
The president says that the crimes to which Michael Cohen pleaded guilty, illegal campaign contributions, were committed by the president, then the candidate, as well.
What anyone is going to do about that, I don't know, but it is a pretty extraordinary thing to see the Department of Justice make that accusation.
Point two, the document from the special counsel makes clear, at least according to Michael Cohen, that there were a lot more contacts between Cohen as a representative of the Trump Organization and the Trump campaign and Russians than we had known previously, more opportunities for collusion, some of them, according to the document, including candidate Trump himself, that candidate Trump was involved in this outreach to the Russians during the campaign.
Third, the special counsel says that Cohen provided very important information regarding activities under the special counsel's investigation at the White House in 2017 and 2018. That's now. That this investigation is including activity at the White House that went on in 2017 and 2018, that's new.
I don't know what it is, but the fact that Mueller is investigating the current White House is pretty extraordinary.
So, the three things are criminal activity accused by the president, much more -- second is much more connection between Russia and Trump world than previously known and, third, an investigation of the White House in 2017 and 2018.
BLITZER: Very, very interesting.
But there's yet more breaking news, Jeffrey.
BLITZER: And Pamela Brown is with us to tell us about this.
All of a sudden we are finally getting the Mueller document involving Paul Manafort, the former Trump campaign chairman.
PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right.
And the big question was, what did he lie about? Well, now Mueller's team is laying out in these documents, saying he lied on five major issues, including his contacts with people within the Trump administration. We are learning through these documents that Manafort had claimed
initially, had told Mueller's team that he had no direct or indirect communication with anyone in the administration while they were in the administration, and that he never asked anyone to try to communicate a message to anyone in the administration on any subject matter.
But, according to Mueller's team, that's not true. And they lay out the evidence they have, that he told a person through text message to talk to a Trump administration official back in May, that Mueller's team is saying separately he was in touch with the administration through February of 2018, and they cite, the prosecutors, additional contacts with administration officials.
Of course, he was indicted in October. He has been in jail since June. So, in that time period, Mueller's team is saying that Paul Manafort did have these communications. So, certainly, it raises the question, why did Manafort tell prosecutors he didn't have these communications with people within the Trump administration and trying to convey these messages to them?
What was it about? That certainly raises a lot of questions.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: And now, in all of these documents, we have multiple times in which Cohen describes contacts with administration officials in 2017-2018.
The special counsel is saying, Paul Manafort, you lied about your contacts with administration officials. So what this does, despite Donald Trump's tweet, and he's cleared -- and, of course, he's not -- but is it takes it inside, not just the campaign, but inside the administration.
And I think that, you know, that is a big, important piece of information that we are learning tonight.
MURRAY: Yes. And I think it raises more questions about what exactly the obstruction inquiry is looking into.
I mean, as you pointed out, we now have in the Cohen filing his cooperation with the special counsel about contacts with the White House in 2017 and 2018. There's also mention of how he cooperated with how his congressional testimony, which was a lie, was circulated with the administration.
In the Manafort filing, we have him lying about his contacts with the administration. And this is coming against the backdrop of all of these people that we know who have been in to see the special counsel, even as CNN broke the news today that John Kelly had been in and been questioned.
Well, you know, John Kelly hasn't been in the White House all that long. He certainly wasn't in the White House or in the campaign when they were worried about Russian influence. We also know that not just Don McGahn, but members of Don McGahn's staff who were helping to facilitate congressional testimony have been questioned by Mueller's team. And, of course, Don McGahn has participated in some 30 hours of interviews. And so it does make you wonder where the obstruction investigation extends and whether there may have been other people in the administration besides Donald Trump who knew that Michael Cohen was going out there lying, who were having conversations with Paul Manafort when he was supposed to be cooperating.
BORGER: Or whether there were other people in the Trump campaign, particularly in regards to the SDNY filing, who knew about the payments to Stormy Daniels.
BORGER: Because we -- you know, maybe we thought, OK, the payments to Stormy Daniels were concocted by Donald Trump and Michael Cohen.
This filing seems to state that he coordinated his actions with one or more members of the campaign, including through meetings and phone calls, about the fact, nature and timing of the payment.
So, who -- you know, the next question we ask, of course, is, who within the campaign was he coordinating with?
BROWN: But, also Donald Trump, it puts his statements into clear focus.
BORGER: Of course.
BROWN: Because what Mueller is making clear in all of this is that he views public deception, not just lies to investigators, but public deception as part of the overall obstruction probe.
And here is what we know about the president's public statements. He denied that he knew anything about the payments to Stormy Daniels. Well, prosecutors, clearly, if you read the documents, don't believe that. They believe he directed Michael Cohen to do that.
BROWN: The White House initially said he only weighed in on the statement about his son's meeting with Russians at Trump Tower, that misleading statement that said it was about adoptions, when really it was about dirt on Hillary Clinton.
Well, we know that he actually directed the statement, the communications. And we know Mueller's team has asked the president and his legal team about those communications and the crafting of that statement.
Well, now we're understanding why that is so important to Mueller's team, because they knew all of this as an effort to create a false narrative in order to limit the Russia investigation. So, it certainly puts all of the president's public comments into focus.
BORGER: Also, the communication on the Trump Tower Moscow.
We also know that there was more communication with the president on that than we had known initially, and that Michael Cohen has, you know, testified to that.
So, you have all of these people, Manafort, Gates, Cohen, lying, lying.
And in this document that Mueller has submitted, the government's submission in support of its breach determination involving Paul Manafort, the former Trump campaign chairman -- and I have been going through it. Parts of it are redacted, but in one part, they say Manafort specifically lied about his interactions with his Konstantin Kilimnik, his Russian associate, who Mueller alleged has ties to Russian military intelligence.
The whole connection with Russia right now brings up the issue of collusion, Russia, individuals, Trump campaign, Trump presidency.
SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes.
So, every new piece of information, I think, really does deepen this story. It deepens the relationship between campaign individuals and Russian officials, the ongoing communications, the substance of those communications.
And then, of course, sort of the question of collusion or serving Russian interests is central to the obstruction inquiry as it relates to the firing of Jim Comey. Why did Michael Flynn make that representation to Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak that the administration, incoming administration, not the president of the United States at the time, was prepared to lift sanctions, sanctions that had been imposed because of this election interference?
And so I think what we are really seeing here is the collusion question is becoming more and more central. We're also hearing a story. You know, usually, whenever we see these kind of scandals emerging from the White House, there's an effort to distance from the principal.
You know, yes, somebody did something bad, but the president had no idea about this. We saw this in the H.W. Bush White House with Iran- Contra and all kinds of other examples.
What we are seeing here is a narrative by which Donald Trump is intimately involved and directing an ongoing part of each and every one of these activities. And so I do think that we're seeing a narrative in which a lot of criminal activity is taking place, and the person who is at the head of all of that is the president of the United States.
BORGER: He is driving it. I mean, in many ways -- they leave it a little vague here, but in many ways, they're implying to a degree that particularly, say, with Stormy Daniels and also with Trump Tower Moscow, that the president, A, was very involved, directing or driving.
And in a footnote on the Trump-Russia meeting, you know, that we have had a lot of discussion about should Trump go to Russia because of the Trump -- he -- Michael Cohen admitted that he had lied about it and that, in fact, he had conferred with Individual 1, who is the president, about -- who was a candidate at the time -- about contacting the Russian government before reaching out to gauge Russia's interest in such a meeting.
The meeting did not take place, but you will recall there was a discussion among his foreign policy team about whether in fact Trump should meet with Putin, and there was some interest in it. Could it have been that he wanted to raise this with him?
BLITZER: All right, Jim Sciutto has been going through this third document that has just been released by the special counsel involving Paul Manafort, the former Trump campaign chairman.
It is, what, 10 pages. A big chunk of it is redacted, but there's a lot of significant information that is not redacted, Jim.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, he lied a lot.
And, as you said, I think we should just remind people, this was the chairman of the Trump campaign. He was not a low-level official, though the president has attempted to distance himself from him, but he was the chairman of the Trump campaign right up -- leading up to the convention here.
And as you look at the lies that the special counsel references here, these are lies that are material to the investigation. These are not process crimes. These are not, as they have been dismissed by the president and his supporters, unrelated things from the distant past.
These are lies, several of them material to key parts of this investigation. One category that the special counsel specifies is he lied about contacts with administration officials. So he lied about things he was communicating to this White House up until very recently.
He lied about communications with Konstantin Kilimnik. Just to remind folks, this is someone with ties to Russian military intelligence. What did Russian military intelligence do? They were the one leading the interference in the 2016 election, the theft and the release of those Clinton e-mails strategically throughout the campaign.
So, Paul Manafort, the chairman of the Trump campaign, lied about his contacts with the Kilimnik, who had ties to Russian military intelligence. In addition, he lied about what appears to be apparent coordination with Kilimnik in witness tampering while Paul Manafort was under trial, so yet another crime, trying to silence witnesses relevant to that investigation. He lied about a wire transfer, so money paid to a firm that he had
hired. And, finally, there's a reference to lies relating to another Justice Department probe. So there's another investigation here that we're not aware of.
I mean, this is a lot of potential criminal activity by the chairman of then candidate Trump's campaign, not insignificant stuff, not unrelated to the president or the investigation, but things that are very material to the special counsel's investigation here.
BLITZER: You know, Jeffrey Toobin, you have gone through this third document released now by Robert Mueller and his team, that Paul Manafort lied on several different issues, including his contacts this year with administration officials.
TOOBIN: That's, to me, the bombshell in this document.
You know, his contacts with Kilimnik are important, but the bombshell here is the statement that the evidence demonstrates that Manafort lied about his contacts.
They obviously have Manafort's texts. And on May 26, 2018, Manafort authorized a person to speak with an administration official on Manafort's behalf. Separately, they said he was in contact with another administration official in February of 2018.
Who are these people? What are they talking about? Who knows about it at the White House? Does this involve pardons? Why is Paul Manafort talking to anyone at the White House at a time when he is a convicted felon, an indicted defendant? What's going on?
I mean, again, it's suggestive. But the idea that Paul Manafort was in touch with people at the White House this year is pretty extraordinary and, again, raises more questions that presumably Mueller may answer, or Congress may decide to look into it.
BLITZER: Elaborate on that point, because, as you know, just minutes ago, the president of United States tweeted -- quote -- "Totally clears the president. Thank you!"
TOOBIN: Yes. Yes, well, I mean, he can say anything he wants.
I mean, when you look at the totality of the three documents filed here, the one by the Southern District which says the president committed a crime, a campaign violation, or the special counsel's document, which says that there were far more extensive contacts between Cohen and the Russians than we have previously known, including some that involved Trump himself, or, third, that Manafort was in touch with the White House in 2018, and Mueller says he was investigating White House activities in 2017 and '18, the president can claim victory all he wants.
That doesn't sound like a win to me.
BLITZER: Let me bring Laura Coates into this, our legal analyst.
Laura, you have been going through all these documents, but specifically the third document just released in the last few minutes, government submission in support of its breach determination involving the lies they allege against Paul Manafort and why he broke that plea deal, supposedly, that had been in the works.
LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, what's most interesting to me, of course, is they talk about -- Paul Manafort sat in front of a grand jury, testified on two separate occasions, the most recent one being on November 2.
So while everyone was talking about the timing of whether or not Robert Mueller would slow down his investigation around the elections, well, meanwhile, Paul Manafort was sitting in front of a grand jury and testifying.
Also, what is very interesting to me about the notion of this entire sentencing memorandum is this. It seems that Paul Manafort thought that he was smarter than the team Mueller, that he could simply say what he wanted to say, he could completely evade their scrutiny, and they would have absolutely no documentary support or testimonial evidence to prove that he was lying.
Now, one of the areas they decided to not block out in the redaction version was to say, other documentary and/or testimonial evidence showed the following. And they black it all out, to let you know that a lot of it's based on the text messages of Paul Manafort, of documentary evidence, of things that could be corroborated, and presumably his own statements that happened, including before the grand jury.
So, you have somebody who, even after a trial, Wolf, even after he was found guilty, with millions of pages of documents, in front of a jury in Virginia, he still felt, for some reason, that the Mueller team and the Mueller probe would not have information relevant to what he was saying that could either corroborate or contradict it. And he still attempted to do so.
[18:30:10] And finally what Jeffrey is talking about is very important. The idea that here you have a basic contract, one that really is supposed to inure to your benefit, because you are the one who is begging for leniency. You are the one who was asking Mueller's team not to have a second trial, not to prosecute you on the hung charges, not to go forward in other areas. And yet and still, you decided your bread was buttered on the side that fell in the Oval Office.
And Mueller is going to make him, essentially, through the argument, pay for that.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Because the suggestion has been that maybe he was doing that, lying about all these things, Manafort, in order to potentially win a pardon from the president.
COATES: Well, that's what one could assume. I mean, the idea of keeping an open line of communication between Paul Manafort's attorneys and, of course, that of the Oval Office and, presumably, Donald Trump is to see essentially say, "Listen, I know it's speculative, but perhaps I'm hoping that, just as your texts -- as your tweets revealed, as your public statements about me being a good guy, vilifying the media and Mueller for saying that I am somehow similar to a nefarious criminal like Al Capone and being mistreated, I'm hoping that those were all signals you were sending to me over the airwaves. And I'm trying to return that and reciprocate by saying, 'Listen, I'm scratching your back. Will you scratch mine?'"
Now, the problem with that, of course, is the pardoning power, although perhaps absolute if it's not for corrupt purpose, for Trump is out there, it's speculative. You know what's real? Mueller's power to ask a court to actually sentence somebody who has already been convicted by a jury, already having pled guilty to certain crimes. That's not speculation any longer. That's not up for grabs.
All that's left now is for the judge to decide whether this person, who remember, was stepped back into prison in the -- before his first trial, because he committed crimes on an ongoing basis, trying to influence or -- influence a witness or intimidate them, yet again while you have somebody who is on the hook, has not learned the lesson, according to Mueller, that he should have learned before he was told he would wait in jail until his trial was over; because he doesn't quite get the gravity of the situation.
BLITZER: Yes, he's facing years, potentially, in prison. He's 69, almost 70 years old, Paul Manafort. He could spend, potentially, the rest of his life in prison. He's in prison right now.
Sara Murray, let's talk a little bit about the bigger picture. What do these various documents released today, three very important documents released in court, tell us about Russian interference?
MURRAY: Wolf, I think when you look at what we know so far, you know, Mueller hasn't exactly ruled out a slam-dunk case for Russian collusion, but when you look at the 10,000-foot view, it is bizarre that there were this many potential channels for Russian influence.
I mean, we now know Paul Manafort, who was the Trump campaign chairman for a time, was lying about his relationship with Konstantin Kilimnik, who has ties to Russian intelligence.
We also know that Michael Cohen, who was the president's lawyer -- he was a fixture around the Trump campaign, if not officially part of the Trump campaign -- was lying about the Trump Tower in Moscow and about how long those discussions continued. And has now divulged that there was another Russian national who came in early in the campaign and who wanted to set up a meeting and provide political synergy between Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
On top of that, we of course, know that Michael Flynn, the former national security advisor, had discussions about sanctions with the Russian ambassador and decided that the right approach was to try to cover that up and to lie about it, even to the vice president of the United States. And we still don't know what is going to happen to Roger Stone, who is
the president's long-time political adviser, but we know investigators are looking into whether he had some back channel with WikiLeaks, which of course, is where we know the Russians went to disseminate the material they stole from the Democrats.
And I think when you look at the big picture, this is a bizarre situation. Most campaigns do not end up in this situation. And it's hard when we're going through filing after filing and pulling out little nuggets and talking about, you know, tidbits here and there, but it does paint a picture where the Russians were trying to make inroads with Donald Trump and with his inner circle. And I think the big question is whether they were actually effective.
BLITZER: And Gloria, the extent of the contacts with the Russians by Manafort and Michael Cohen, as detailed in these documents, a lot more extensive.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: And Flynn. Let's just think back. Just step back for a moment to the Flynn -- to the Flynn memo.
BLITZER: Michael Flynn, the former national security adviser.
BORGER: That's right. In which the special counsel said public officials ought to be held to a higher standard, period. And what we are seeing in all of these documents this evening is that there was no standard and there was no higher standard.
We have the Southern District of New York accusing Donald Trump of directing or participating in payments, potentially criminal, to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal.
You have Bob Mueller also saying that Cohen described contacts in the 2017-2018 campaign, bringing this into the White House. Who are the people he was talking with?
[18:35:15] And just recently, just in this third filing we just got moments ago, you have the special counsel -- you have the special counsel talking about how Manafort lied -- another liar -- about his contacts, saying the -- their evidence shows that he was talking to administration officials and that he authorized a person to speak with the administration on his behalf.
He said in February -- and they have someone, a colleague, who told them that Manafort said in February that he had been in communication with a senior administration official through February 2018 and that he had had additional contacts with administration officials.
Well, what was he talking about? Was he talking about coordinating his story with them, perhaps in exchange for a pardon? Did the administration officials, whoever they were, take it up the ladder?
You know, Donald Trump can tweet, "I'm great tonight." But all of this brings this closer and closer and closer to him and to people that work with him, not only during the campaign, not only during the transition, but inside the current White House.
And I think that is what we -- when we take our step back, we look at where Mueller is coming from about his sense of public officials and that false public statements are also very significant, as Pamela was pointing out, that that's where Mueller is coming from. Mueller is coming from "Everybody's lied to us," and the mosaic that he's forming is that it's just -- it's like getting the jigsaw puzzle done, and you're sort of almost in the middle of the puzzle and you have a few more pieces you've got to -- you've got to put together.
SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN LEGAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: But to this point, I think Mueller has pretty demonstrably shown a Russian conspiracy to interfere in the election and help assist Donald Trump. And he's showing, to Sara's point, all of these attempts to reach out to the Trump campaign in various ways.
The consistent element on the Trump campaign side is the answer is always yes. The answer is, "Give us -- yes, we'd love to see dirt, especially later in the summer." The answer is, "Yes, we'd love to do a Trump Tower Moscow deal with you." Sort of no matter what the sort of overture, we're seeing receptivity. And maybe we don't have sort of the smoking gun of sort of the Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump phone call, but I do think that we have profoundly troubling evidence and, frankly, an absence of any kind of exonerating evidence, an absence of any kind of pushback whatsoever.
PAMELA BROWN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Let's not forget, in February of last year, you had the president coming out, following our reporting about contact between the campaign and Russia and saying there wasn't any contact.
Well, now in these documents today we're learning about all the contact between Michael Cohen and Russians, Paul Manafort, Konstantin Kilimnik, connected to the Russian intelligence unit that is, according to Mueller's team, connected to the DNC leaks.
Now, looking at the White House and how they're going to try to spin this, basically what they're trying to say, people I'm speaking to, is, look, this is a tough sentence for Michael Cohen. If he really had dirt on the president, Mueller's team, FDNY, would be asking for a lighter sentence, if he was really being helpful.
And they're also going to argue that there's nothing in here implicating the president on legal grounds, but politically -- legal grounds aside, politically this is very damaging for the president.
You look at the Moscow project. Mueller's team makes it clear they believe that there were communications between Cohen and Trump throughout the campaign.
BROWN: And that the Moscow project is central to the Russia collusion investigation. You just heard the president last Friday, though, downplay the Moscow project, saying it was really nothing, no big deal. BLITZER: No big deal. The president.
Phil Mudd, I want you to step back. You used to work in not only the CIA but also the FBI. The president is reacting to all of this with the tweet, "Totally clears the president, thank you." Go ahead, give me your picture.
PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Boy, I better be careful. I'm about ready to blow a gasket here.
Let me be clear. Forget about the legal side, let me take you to the investigative side. When you're investigating, there's a couple of things are happening behind the scenes. The investigators in this complicated circumstance where you have dozens, or hundreds of people, financial records, phone, email, contacts overseas, they have to create a timeline. What happened in 2014, 2015, 2016.
Behind that timeline they have to create a narrative. Before you go to the courtroom you want to understand, what's the story here? What did people talk about? Forget just about e-mails and financial records, what's the story behind their motivations?
We have the national security adviser, initially Michael Flynn lied. We obviously had the campaign manager, Paul Manafort, lied. We had the personal attorney, lied. We had low-lying fruit, that is George Papadopoulos, the financial -- or pardon me, the foreign policy adviser, lied.
For every single person who says why did this investigation go so long, tell me how you'd like to create a narrative when in the midst of the most significant investigation of our generation, everybody lies?
[18:40:06] My final comment, for everybody who has sympathy with the president's tweets and who says that people who are tough, who didn't rat out, I would pay for every bologna sandwich that this guy, Paul Manafort, has in federal prison. The most significant investigation of our generation about foreign interference in election and his response? Lies. Go to jail. Have a good time. I don't care.
BLITZER: I want to bring in Anthony Ferrante, a former FBI special agent, as well. You've investigated a lot of crimes during your career, Anthony. Walk us through your bottom line when you look at the big picture from these three documents released today.
ANTHONY FERRANTE, FORMER FBI SPECIAL AGENT: Yes, Wolf. Really interesting, and it's very clear that the Mueller case is progressing, and they're getting closer and closer to the truth.
I think the fact remains -- and we witnessed it earlier in the week and, of course, these documents released today, is that you do not lie to Special Counsel Mueller's office. Special Counsel Mueller already knows the truth, right?
Like a good FBI agent, when these individuals went in and were interviewed, the FBI did not ask them a question they already didn't know the answer to. And it's clear when Cohen went in for his interview, he voluntarily went in, he volunteered information that he thought the counsel's office was interested in, but as soon as they asked -- started asking him questions about the Moscow project he started telling lies. That means that they already knew what they wanted to know about the Moscow project. They just wanted to know where he stood on it. And it's clear that he lied, and it's now coming full circle.
BLITZER: Shimon, let me get your thoughts. You've covered this from day one. As you've gone through these documents, give us your big picture right now, the contacts that these individuals had with Trump administration officials, including this year as well as with the Russians.
SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Look, I think no matter the way -- the way you slice this, this is not good. This is ugly. What we're seeing is really this picture being painted. I think as everyone here has said, as Phil has said and Anthony in there has said, that people continue to lie to the special counsel, to FBI investigators who simply are trying to get at what was going on here.
The other thing, what's very clear, is when you look, every time these documents come out, what is so clear to us is that Mueller is sitting on so much information, so much evidence. We are only getting a piece of this. And each time these documents come out, we hear about text messages he has. We hear about this information on the Moscow project, and that when Michael Cohen went in, sat down with the special counsel, lied to them, then changed his tune, they say, "Well, we have information that corroborated, that was corroborated by other information obtained in the course of their investigation."
So it's clear that every time we see pieces of information become public here, the special counsel has spent so much time corroborating it, gathering information. The evidence here is mounting, mounting, mounting.
And what you're seeing here is really one big conspiracy, a conspiracy to lie, a conspiracy to obstruct, a conspiracy not to allow investigators to get to the truth of what was going on here. What was going on with the Russians and people inside the campaign?
We're now seeing things about the company, the Trump Organization, perhaps, here. Something was going on here, and Mueller knows it all, and it's only a matter of time. And that's why these filings are so important. And every time we gear up, we get ready for these filings -- because this is how we're getting a window, a peek into what is going on here. And every time information comes out, it's a big deal, Wolf, no matter how you look at this.
There is so much information here, and we have yet to know everything. And when we do, we're probably going to be even shocked more than we are with each of these filings that come out.
BLITZER: Yes, and the suspicion is -- and I think it's a good one -- that Mueller and his team, they already know everything, but they're just going through the motions right now of going after these individuals. Both Paul Manafort, Michael Cohen potentially could spend years and years in prison as a result of all of this.
I want to bring in Congressman Ted Lieu. He's a Democrat. He serves on the Judiciary and Foreign Affairs Committee.
Congressman, thanks for joining us. You're a former prosecutor. What's your main takeaway from these filings we're seeing from the special counsel, specifically of the one involving Paul Manafort, of lying to investigators in breach of his so-called cooperation agreement?
REP. TED LIEU (D), CALIFORNIA: Thank you, Wolf, for your question.
I have three takeaways from the three documents today. On the Paul Manafort filing, it's very disturbing that Paul Manafort still had communications with Trump administration officials as late as this year. And we want to know what did he talk to Trump administration officials about?
I also want to know, was Paul Manafort's attorney complicit in these lies? That's why Congresswoman Kathleen Rice and I sent a letter to New York state bar, asking them to open an investigation into Paul Manafort's attorney to see if he should be disbarred or charged with other unethical conduct.
Second, under Michael Cohen filing from the special Southern District of New York, what they say is Michael Cohen's two campaign finance felonies were directed by person named as individual one. That person is Donald Trump. That means that Donald Trump also committed two felonies.
And third, with the Michael Cohen filing from Robert Mueller, there's a very telling line in there where special counsel Mueller says that essentially Michael Cohen should get some leniency because he gave Russia-related information core to the special counsel's investigation. That means Mueller's very aware that his core mission is Russia collusion, that these other crimes, whether it is campaign finance or obstruction of justice or perjury, those are tangential. He would not have said this if he did not intend to deliver on his core investigation.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Do you believe Paul Manafort was lying to protect the president?
LIEU: I believe he was lying to actually protect himself and maybe he was trying to protect the president, but I think he was mainly trying to protect himself. It is also really astounding that Paul Manafort could think he could lie and get away with it, knowing that the full resources of the prosecution in terms of what they have with not just electronic surveillance but also just manpower, that he could somehow get away with it. That's really quite astounding.
BLITZER: They know clearly, I would say everything already.
Let's turn to the sentencing memos involving Michael Cohen, the president's long-time lawyer and fixer, spent a decade working with the president. In this filing from the Southern District of New York, congressman, individual number one, who is identified -- identified as the president of the United States, is mentioned 23 separate times. How damaging is that for the president?
LIEU: It is extremely damaging, not just politically but also legally. If you direct a person to commit a felony, you also in essence committed that felony or at least conspiracy to commit that felony. So, it's quite astounding that prosecutors who are under the department of justice, who essentially are under Donald Trump, are accusing him of committing at least two felonies.
Also, when we take a step back we see not only that Michael Cohen lied or Paul Manafort lied, George Papadopoulos lied, Michael Flynn lied, and they all lied about the same thing about Russia-related matters. So, that also is very telling. I think that special counsel Mueller has a lot of information about these Russia-related matters, and we're going to see that next year in terms of when the investigation concludes. I think we're going to see a lot more things come out about Russia and potential interaction between Russia and the Trump campaign.
BLITZER: Based on what you learned today in the documents, Congressman, do you believe the House of Representatives should begin impeachment proceedings against the president?
LIEU: I believe impeachment, like Congress's power to declare war, is one of our gravest responsibilities. It should never be our first option. I think we need to wait for the special counsel investigation to conclude and then make a decision.
And these court filings today, they were not meant to clear the president or not clear him. These were specific filings on Paul Manafort and on Michael Cohen for sentencing purposes and for other purposes, not really to layout a roadmap but also to tell the judge about what they want to have happen to these filings. So, we're going to know a lot more when the actual investigation concludes and special counsel Mueller reveals everything he knows about Russia.
BLITZER: Congressman Lieu, thanks so much for joining us.
LIEU: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: Very, very big day, Jeffrey Toobin. Step back a little bit. Tell our viewers why today is so important in this investigation.
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: You know, when I talk to people out there in the real world, one thing they always say is like all of this Russia information, there's new stuff every day, like what is important, what is new? That's the question I will try to answer today.
The first thing is the Department of Justice today in the most explicit terms said the president of the United States committed two felonies. Just said it right, came out and said it. Campaign violations related to the stormy Daniels' payment and the payment to --
BLITZER: Karen McDougal --
TOOBIN: -- to Karen McDougal. Yes, it is just plain as day. And Congress is going to have to decide what, if anything, to do about that, but it is an extraordinary thing that the Department of Justice said the president of the United States committed these crimes.
The second thing relates to Russia. You know, that ultimately is what this is all about. That's why this investigation exists, the question of did the Trump campaign, the Trump business interests collude with, conspire with Russia to try to get Donald Trump elected president. Today there is more evidence to that effect.
There is evidence that Michael Cohen and candidate Trump himself were talking about ingratiating themselves with Russia as the campaign was unfolding.
[18:50:12] We know that the president has said over and over again, I had nothing to do with Russia. That is even more clearly a lie today.
And finally, there is the story about lies. More lies that we learned about. The -- you know, that Paul Manafort, Michael Cohen and the people around them lied about Russia over and over again.
And the real bombshell of the Paul Manafort material is that these contacts, the investigation of misconduct, including false statements by the White House, continues into 2017 and 2018. What's quite clear is that Robert Mueller's team is investigating misconduct that was ongoing at the White House in 2017 and '18, doesn't say what it was, precisely, but the idea that this investigation is continuing in the contemporary White House was certainly news to me, and I think it's a shocking development that will have implications for how the White House functions, because I don't know who's going to be there.
BLITZER: It's interesting, Jeffrey, that the two felonies that you're talking about that allegedly were committed by the president involving illegal in kind campaign contributions to Susan McDougal and Stormy Daniels, that wasn't in the Mueller documents that were filed with the court. That was in the document filed by the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York.
TOOBIN: You know, that is interesting, Wolf, and it just shows one of the things about the Department of Justice that, you know, I think is wonderful as a former Department of Justice employee, is that while it is true that U.S. attorneys' offices are part of the administration, they have a tradition of independence and they have a tradition of calling things as they see them, so it was, as you point out, it wasn't Robert Mueller who has a structure of independence, but it is rather the Southern District which has a tradition of independence that said the president committed these crimes.
You know, I think it's fair -- it's important to point out that the president has and presumably will continue to deny that, so it's not like it's proof the president committed a crime, but it is a very important assertion in a legal document by the Department of Justice, and it's a sobering thing to think that the Department of Justice is making that sort of accusation.
BLITZER: Just let me correct. I meant Karen McDougal and Stormy Daniels. Clearly --
TOOBIN: You got your presidential scandals mixed up.
BLITZER: I got the scandals mixed up obviously. But Karen McDougal and Stormy Daniels. That's the allegation.
Laura Coates, Mueller is not slowing down at all, is he?
LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: No, I think the president has been characterizing this entire thing as a witch hunt. Looks to me more like a six-headed hydra that has a full belly of fire for all the things that are going on right now. You know, the president of the United States has tried to be dismissive up to now but what we're seeing is a methodical approach by Mueller to farm out the cases that are not directly related to his highest priorities and to alert the courts in different jurisdictions that he has ongoing investigations that he is not privy to giving information to everything for.
Just compare for a second, Wolf, the Michael Flynn filing, full of redactions, talking about at least three investigations, only one of which was special counsel. Now, compare it to what happened in Paul Manafort today. The person who was formerly the chairman of the campaign, Mueller's team says at the very end of the document, if you have questions about other ongoing investigations, we'll tell you ex parte, meaning we'll have a conversation with the court about that.
They're keenly aware that every information, every nugget that they let out to the public eye through even redacted testimony would come back to be presented to somebody that they do not want tipped off. And so, what you're seeing here is Mueller's team perhaps not slowing down at all but being so thorough to investigate every single thing and while everyone thought about this being who is the biggest fish that they're after, I think the more appropriate analogy, now that we're seeing all the documents here, is how many birds can be killed with different cooperators' stones.
Their interest is very far reaching. The dragnet is widening. It's going to be curious to figure out whose names under these black lines and at least in one case, what conversation that judge is having with Mueller's team that he can't even put on paper.
BLITZER: You know, Anthony Ferrante, you were a special agent of the FBI. What do you see when you step back and you look at the investigators, the prosecutors' tactics that were demonstrated today.
ANTHONY FERRANTE, FORMER FBI SPECIAL AGENT: Yes, Wolf, as my colleague is just saying a few seconds ago, I think it's safe to say that the Mueller team is just warming up.
[18:55:00] This investigation is getting really interesting and we're starting to learn more and more every single day.
Investigating a matter like this, these investigators are doing their homework every single day. They have access to text messages, e-mail records, phone call logs, travel records, meetings with people in different buildings in different spaces, and what they're doing is then sitting down with these targets and asking them these targeted questions. They already know the answers to the questions they're asking.
They want to read the person they're interviewing and interrogating. They want to watch their body language. They want to watch how they move.
And I'll tell you this, if an FBI agent asks you a question twice, you better think long and hard before you answer, especially if they go and ask you a third time, because they're on to something, and they probably think you're lying because you probably are lying.
BLITZER: They know the answers before you even utter the words so you better tell the truth. That's the bottom line.
BLITZER: Gloria, step back, give us your analysis over these past two hours, we have learned a great deal.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, we've learned a great deal. And what we've learned is that the tentacles of this investigation go directly into the White House, not only during the campaign but also currently.
We have learned that the Southern District of New York is effectively accusing the president of directing or participating a crime in the payments to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal, that Mueller is saying Cohen has been in contact with current White House officials about those payments. And that Paul Manafort is somebody who lied about his contacts with administration officials.
And we are left asking the questions, why were they all lying? What were they trying to cover up? And what was Paul Manafort trying to do? Was he trying to coordinate a story with the White House so he could get a pardon? And the question we're left with is, where is the president in all of this?
SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY AND LEGAL ANALYST: And I think on the point of lying, things really are starting to come into focus. We've had a little bit of a narrative that so what if the president of the United States lies to the public, he lies all the time. I think what we're saying now is it is potentially a lie to the public if it's an effort to get your story straight and coordinate false testimony for federal investigators or congressional investigators.
You know, another observation, if this is what is in incredibly restrained technical court filings, what is going to be in this Mueller report? I think this is all leading up to, you know, that if confirmed, Bill Barr may be in a position to become one of the most consequential attorney generals in American history.
BLITZER: Phil, what do you think? PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Cover-up. I remember
hearing about this in mid-2016 thinking, I'm not sure there's a story here. Don Jr. lied about 2016, Manafort lied, Flynn lied. You also had Roger Stone said, I'm going to take the Fifth because I don't want to tell the real story.
The question here is not whether people lied. It's about contacts with the Russians. If they weren't significant, why does everybody lie?
SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: But I do think, yes, it is about contacts with the Russians, that's what Mueller is investigating, whether there was collusion but I think it matters that Donald Trump lied if you believe what investigators have laid out in all these documents when he was a candidate, he's continued to lie to the American people when he was in the White House.
And one of the questions that springs to mind, especially around is why? I mean, Donald Trump may still have won even if there were women that they had paid off, even if the American public knew he was working on this project in Moscow. He may still have won. But you are left with this picture that Donald Trump and all of the people he surrounds himself with are willing to do whatever it takes to get power and then to stay in power.
BLITZER: Pamela Brown, what do you think? How's the White House going to deal with all this?
PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, the White House is going to down play this, saying it doesn't implicate the president on legal grounds and saying that, look, if Michael Cohen really had damaging information on the president and offered that to prosecutors, prosecutors would be asking for him to have a lighter sentence. But what is clear here is that at the very least, this is politically damaging to the president, because Mueller is making clear here that as part of the obstruction case, he is also looking at public deception, lies that people around the president have said publicly and Mueller's words, to create a false narrative in a way to limit the obstruction investigation.
And so, that also tells you that Mueller is looking at the comments that the president has made relating to this investigation on the Don Jr. meeting at Trump Tower, on Stormy Daniels payments, all of this, we're seeing laid out today is under the microscope by Mueller's team as well as SDNY prosecutors.
BLITZER: Yes, let's not forget the whole Russia connection right now. Clearly, if you believe the U.S. intelligence community, they were trying, A, to undermine Hillary Clinton in case she was elected, make her as weak as possible, but their hope was that Donald Trump would be elected. That's why they were involved in all of this to begin with.
Good to step back and remember that.
That's it. Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. Our special coverage continues with "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT".