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Interview With Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA); Michael Cohen Testifies Before Congress; President Trump Meets With Kim Jong-un. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired February 27, 2019 - 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're following all the breaking news on Michael Cohen's truly explosive public testimony today, the president's longtime personal lawyer calling his former boss a racist, a con man and a cheat, accusing him of countless lies and potential crimes.
In the daylong hearing, Cohen testified about Mr. Trump's role in illegal hush money payments to women and negotiations for a Moscow Trump Tower, the president's knowledge of Roger Stone's contacts with WikiLeaks, and much, much more.
Cohen declaring that the president's lawyers reviewed and edited his false 2017 testimony to Congress and claiming that federal prosecutors in New York right now are investigating possible wrongdoing by the president beyond, beyond what's already been made public.
The questioning sharply split along partisan lines, Democrats focusing in on the president's actions, Republicans focusing in on Cohen's confessed crimes and lies.
Let's go to our senior White House correspondent, Pamela Brown. She's up on Capitol Hill. She watched all of this, so many hours, all of this dramatic testimony.
Pamela, Michael Cohen spent so many hours on the witness stand and he certainly covered a lot of ground.
PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: He did.
It was really an astonishing hearing today, Wolf, on Capitol Hill with the president's former lawyer and fixer. On one side, you had the Democrats repeatedly pressing Michael Cohen about the president and allegations surrounding him, and then, on the other side, you had Republicans raising credibility issues with Michael Cohen.
And Cohen started off this hearing today taking direct aim at President Trump.
BROWN (voice-over): Donald Trump's former personal attorney and fixer Michael Cohen dropping bombshell accusations against the president.
MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER ATTORNEY/FIXER FOR DONALD TRUMP: I am ashamed because I know what Mr. Trump is. He is a racist, he is a con man, and he is a cheat.
BROWN: Cohen also alleging Trump knew that WikiLeaks was about to release the stolen Democratic National Committee e-mails during a phone call with his longtime friend and adviser Roger Stone.
REP. PETER WELCH (D), VERMONT: And you testified you were actually meeting with Donald Trump in July 2016, when Roger Stone happened to call and tell Mr. Trump that he had just spoken to Julian Assange. Is that correct?
COHEN: That is correct.
It was a short conversation. And he said: "Mr. Trump, I just want to let that I just got off the phone with Julian Assange. And in a couple of days, there's going to be a massive dump of e-mails that's going to severely hurt the Clinton campaign."
WELCH: So Mr. Trump was aware of the upcoming dump before it actually happened?
BROWN: The president previously told "The New York Times" he never discussed WikiLeaks with Stone.
And WikiLeaks tweeted today that Julian Assange never spoke by phone with Stone. Roger Stone released this statement today: "Mr. Cohen's statement is not true."
Cohen also revealed Trump directed him to lie to the public about his involvement in hush money payments to Stormy Daniels during the election, for which Cohen provided a check as proof.
The president previously told "The New York Times" he never discussed WikiLeaks with Stone. And WikiLeaks tweeted today that Julian Assange never spoke by phone with Stone. Roger Stone released this statement today, Mr. Cohen's statement is not true. Cohen also revealed Trump directed him to lie to the public about his involvement in hush money payments to Stormy Daniels during the election for which Cohen provided a check as proof.
REP. KATIE HILL (D), CALIFORNIA: Did the president call you to coordinate on public messaging about the payments to Ms. Clifford in or around February 2018?
HILL: What did the president ask or suggest that you say about the payments or reimbursements? COHEN: He was not knowledgeable of these reimbursements, and he wasn't knowledgeable of my actions.
HILL: He asked you to say that?
COHEN: Yes, ma'am.
BROWN: And Cohen said the president reimbursed him in multiple payments rather than a lump sum.
COHEN: The president of the United States thus wrote a personal check for the payment of hush money as part of a criminal scheme to violate campaign finance laws.
So picture this scene. In February 2017, one month into his presidency, I'm visiting President Trump in the Oval Office for the first time. And it's truly awe-inspiring. He's showing me around and pointing to different paintings, and he says to me something to the effect of: "Don't worry, Michael. Your January and February reimbursement checks are coming."
BROWN: And Cohen said the president directed payments in conspiracy with others.
Are you telling us, Mr. Cohen, that the president directed transactions in conspiracy with Allen Weisselberg and his son Donald Trump Jr. as part of a civil criminal -- as part of a criminal conspiracy of financial fraud? Is that your testimony today?
BROWN: On the 2016 Trump Tower meet with Don Jr. and others from the campaign with Russians, Cohen remembered this moment.
COHEN: And I recall Don Jr. leaning over to his father and speaking in a low voice, which I could clearly hear, and saying, "The meeting is all set."
And I remember Mr. Trump saying: "OK, good. Let me know."
What struck me as I looked back and thought about that exchange between Don Jr. and his father was, first, that Mr. Trump had frequently told me and others that his son Don Jr. had the worst judgment of anyone in the world, and also that Don Jr. would never set up any meeting of any significance alone, and certainly not without checking with his father.
BROWN: Cohen pleaded guilty to lying to Congress in 2017 about the Trump Organization's pursuit of a Trump Tower Moscow project. He initially downplayed Trump's role and lied by saying talks ended in January 2016, but now says the president is more involved than he said.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There were at least a half-dozen times between the Iowa Caucus in January 2016 and the end of June when he would ask me, "How's it going in Russia? -- referring to the Moscow Tower project.
You need to know that Mr. Trump's personal lawyers reviewed and edited my statement to Congress about the timing of the Moscow Tower negotiations.
BROWN: Cohen also said there were ongoing investigations that he couldn't discuss.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is there any other wrongdoing or illegal act that you are aware of regarding Donald Trump that we haven't yet discussed today?
COHEN: Yes, and, again, those are part of the investigation that's currently being looked at by the Southern District of New York.
BROWN: Republicans brought up Cohen's past and how he has lied repeatedly and to Congress for which he's heading to prison for in May, along with other crimes he pleaded guilty to.
Cohen was pressed on why he worked for Trump for so long if he was such a bad person.
REP. JIM JORDAN (R), OHIO: You said all these bad things about the president there in that last 30 minutes, and yet you worked for him for 10 years? All those bad things. I mean, it's that bad, I can see you working for him for 10 days, maybe 10 weeks, maybe even 10 months, but you worked for him for 10 years.
Mr. Cohen, how long did you work in the White House?
COHEN: I never worked in the White House.
JORDAN: And that's the point, isn't it, Mr. Cohen?
COHEN: No, sir.
JORDAN: Yes, it is.
COHEN: No, it's not, sir.
JORDAN: You wanted to work in the White House.
COHEN: No, sir.
JORDAN: You didn't get brought to the dance.
BROWN: And it's worth noting that Cohen is testifying under different circumstances than before, when he had lied to Congress because since then he's been cooperating in federal investigations.
So if what he said today contradicts what he told investigators, he's going to face the potential of an even longer prison sentence for perjury.
Now, Cohen will be back here on Capitol Hill tomorrow testifying before the House Intelligence Committee behind closed doors -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Pamela Brown up on Capitol Hill, thanks very much.
Let's bring in our political and legal experts.
And, Gloria Borger, Michael Cohen says flatly, Donald Trump is a racist, a con man and a cheat.
Everything he revealed today, of everything he revealed, what was the most damaging?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: There were two parts to this testimony. I think all of it was damaging, quite honestly.
One was his personal narrative about who Donald Trump is. And Cohen kept saying, I know him better than anybody else, because I worked side by side with him for more than a decade. He had him threaten people, he said more than 500 people. He speaks in a code that I understand when he doesn't have to direct me to do anything that I shouldn't be doing. I hear him and I know what he is saying.
And then he called him all those names and elaborated on why. But then there's the other side of it, which is the legal side. And he placed the president at the center of a criminal conspiracy.
He brought with him the check signed by Donald Trump in this elaborate scheme to hide the hush money payments to Stormy Daniels, which, as we all know, is a campaign finance violation, and then told the story of how the president called him in February 2018 just to make sure that he wasn't going to implicate the president in anything, when, of course, the president has said he knew nothing about it.
Talked about WikiLeaks and the president receiving a call from Roger Stone saying, you know, this is going to happen, and the president said, well, that's great.
And the one thing that struck me today is that not one person in the Republican Party who was asking any questions actually addressed the potential criminality of Donald Trump, but rather decided just to attack Michael Cohen.
BLITZER: He also said, Dana, that he was told to lie about the hush money payments.
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely.
And that was one of the most dramatic moments. And it was Katie Hill, whom you just interviewed, who drew that out of him. Now, that particular part was untoward and was something that he should not have done, but perhaps not illegal to say don't tell the truth to the public. It is, as Gloria just laid out, the series of allegations of Donald
Trump being involved in the acts that are sending Michael Cohen to prison, talking about, first and foremost, as you said, the hush money payments, but then in addition to that, he laid out other scenarios that could be potential crimes about, you know, potential fraud with his charity, about potential fraud, financial fraud, by giving banks information about his financial situation that might not have been true.
Those are serious allegations. And right at the end, actually after the hearing was over, Elijah Cummings went to the stakeout to talk to reporters and was asked point blank, do you believe that the president committed a crime while in office, while in office? And his response was, "It appears that he did."
If that is what the chairman of the House Oversight Committee believes, it is going to be -- they are going to be hard-pressed to not at least consider impeachment proceedings, because that's a political decision based on what their interpretation of the laws that were potentially broken are.
BLITZER: Listen to -- Sabrina, listen what the president -- what Michael Cohen said today and what the president has said about those hush money payments. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
QUESTION: Mr. President, did you know about the $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels?
TRUMP: No, no.
COHEN: I am providing a copy of a $35,000 check that President Trump personally signed from his personal bank account on August 1 of 2017.
QUESTION: Why did Michael Cohen make this, if there was no truth to her allegations?
TRUMP: Well, you will have to ask Michael. Michael is my attorney and you will have to ask Michael Cohen.
COHEN: Trump directed me to use my own personal funds from a line of equity credit to avoid any money being traced back to him.
QUESTION: Do you know where he got the money to make that payment?
TRUMP: I don't know, no.
COHEN: This $35,000 check was one of 11 check installments that was paid throughout the year while he was president. Other checks to reimburse me for the hush money payments were signed by Donald Trump Jr. and Allen Weisselberg.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right. So who are we to believe? SABRINA SIDDIQUI, "THE GUARDIAN": Well, the White House's account of
this entire affair was inconsistent from the outset.
They first denied any knowledge whatsoever of the allegation. Then you saw the president try and shift the onus toward Michael Cohen. But the president is named in a court filing as Individual 1, having directed Michael Cohen to make this payment to Stormy Daniels in an attempt to sort of influence at least the perception leading into the 2016 election.
And Michael Cohen really did lay out in great detail just how intimately involved the president was in overseeing every step of this payment, from signing a check, also implicating Donald Trump Jr. in signing one of the other checks to reimburse Michael Cohen, but even having knowledge of Michael Cohen having used a home equity line to make that payment.
So, you know, I think there's obviously going to be an effort by the White House to attack Cohen's credibility. And, yes, he has been convicted of lying to Congress. But he's about to go to prison for three years.
And so he's testifying in a very different context today, whereas the last time around, when he spoke to investigators, he may have been holding out hope for a pardon. He was on much better terms with the president. He now has no reason to believe that the president or anyone else can save him if he were to have been dishonest once again in his testimony today.
BLITZER: I'm really anxious, Susan, from your perspective, the legal perspective, what jumped out at you today?
SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I think, fundamentally, the perjury issues potentially.
Based on Cohen's testimony, of course, if it's true and if it can be corroborated somehow, the president potentially has two major issues. The first is those answers that he gave to Robert Mueller.
CNN has reported his written statements, which are sworn statements, the president's statements, made two assertions, one, that he didn't know, Roger Stone didn't tell him about those WikiLeaks e-mail release ahead of times and, two, that no one told him about the Trump Tower meeting in advance.
Now, Michael Cohen he suspected that he might know about this, that Don Jr. would have told his father. But, more importantly, he said that he heard with his own ears Roger Stone on speakerphone telling Donald Trump about this release in advance. If either of those statements are false and can be corroborated, the president has very serious issues.
More immediately, Cohen said that Donald Trump's lawyers reviewed and edited that testimony that turned out -- Cohen's testimony that turned out to be false.
It is inconceivable that Trump's lawyers did not discuss the factual background with the president in advance. It's inconceivable the president was not aware of what Cohen was saying. If he then went ahead and authorized those edits to be made, in any way encouraged Cohen to move forward submitting that testimony, there's a very strong case based just on the publicly known statements that the president may be guilty of suborning perjury.
BLITZER: We just got a statement from Jay Sekulow, the counsel to the president, saying this -- quote -- "Today's testimony by Michael Cohen that attorneys for the president edited or changed his statement to Congress to alter the duration of the Trump Tower Moscow negotiations is completely false."
HENNESSEY: That's a very, very careful statement, edited or changed about the duration of the Trump Tower Moscow meetings.
The significance here is if they edited or did anything at all, if they reviewed and handed it back to him, there's an implicit statement in that of, OK, this is good to go. Go ahead and submit that.
Now, the lawyers -- whether or not the president told the lawyers the truth, well, that is encouraging Michael Cohen to submit testimony that the president, by all appearances, knew to be false at the time.
BORGER: People lie to their lawyers all the time, right?
BLITZER: Stick around. Don't go too far away.
I want to bring in a key member of House Oversight and Reform Committee who questioned Michael Cohen today, Democratic Congressman Ro Khanna.
Congressman, thanks so much for joining us.
We watched with a lot of attention your Q&A, your questioning of Michael Cohen. Looking at the entirety of Cohen's testimony today, do you believe President Trump has committed impeachable offenses?
REP. RO KHANNA (D), CALIFORNIA: Well, it certainly looks like he's committed crimes. And I agree with Gloria. The two crimes that he likely committed, one is subordinating perjury.
We know that the White House lawyers were helping craft Michael Cohen's testimony. I think that was a big admission. And, second, Cohen testified and had proof with a smoking gun document that Trump was involved in the payments of the Trump Organization to him.
And here's what's relevant, Wolf. It happened while he's president. So, this is not acts that happened during the campaign. These are crimes he may have committed as president.
And we also learned that Donald Trump Jr. may be Executive 2. He may be currently under criminal investigation by the Southern District of New York. BLITZER: As you know, we also heard Michael Cohen believes that
Donald Trump Jr. might have told Donald Trump about the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting with those Russians.
Was his testimony on that point, from your perspective, that persuasive?
KHANNA: I do.
And I think the reason it's persuasive is, he was so careful. He didn't say that Donald Trump knew about what the content of those e- mails were. He could have made some sensational allegation. He said, I don't want to go that far, but I do know that Donald Trump was aware of those e-mails.
And, as Gloria pointed out, there's a perjury issue. Here's what the president has done. He's made this whole thing about collusion. But put that aside. Put Bob Mueller's report aside. He's got two other problems. He may have committed garden variety financial fraud. He may have violated campaign finance laws. And he may have committed perjury.
Those are serious crimes, as much as the collusion is.
BLITZER: You want your committee to bring in Donald Trump Jr. and Ivanka Trump for questioning?
KHANNA: I think certainly Donald Trump Jr., based on Michael Cohen's testimony. It seems pretty obvious at this point, given the admission that he's Executive 2, that Donald Trump Jr. is under the investigation by the Southern District of New York.
And there are open questions of when that investigation is going to conclude. I think someone needs to ask the president if he's trying to pardon Donald Trump Jr. if he is convicted of a crime. And some of those crimes he may get convicted of may be state crimes, which, of course, you can't pardon. So I think we need to hear from Donald Trump Jr.
BLITZER: So, based on all -- you see suspicion of various crimes, three specific crimes committed by the president of the United States. Is it time to begin impeachment proceedings in the House of Representatives?
KHANNA: Well, I think this raises very serious questions. I still believe we need to finish the investigation. We have to wait for Mueller's report, and we need to see what the Southern District of New York concludes.
It seems that there's a lot more in the Southern District of New York than we knew before today. Michael Cohen said he's cooperated since the earlier testimony, that there's a lot more that the Southern District of New York knows that we don't know. So I think, once we have those two reports, then everything has to be on the table.
BLITZER: What about other key Trump Organization employees like Rhona Graff, who was the executive assistant to the president for a long time, Allen Weisselberg, the chief financial officer at the Trump Organization?
He's been there 40 years. You want them to be brought before your committee?
And, as you know, Allen Weisselberg has gotten immunity from the Southern District of New York. So, he's probably cooperating and maybe implicating Donald Trump Jr. And Trump's assistant should testify.
And here's the point, Wolf, that your question raises. This is not about Michael Cohen's credibility. Michael Cohen didn't just come and offer a witness account. He offered corroborating evidence. He offered documents and he pointed to other people who could corroborate his account.
The committee needs to hear from them, so that we're not just relying on Michael Cohen; we actually have compelling evidence independent of Michael Cohen.
BLITZER: What about David Pecker, the head of AMI, the parent company of "The National Enquirer"?
Because Cohen, as you know, indicated there were other stories "The National Enquirer" helped cover up. Pecker, I think, has also received limited immunity.
KHANNA: I thought Peter Welch did a great job in getting that admission. And I didn't know about that, that Pecker apparently was covering up other sensational allegations about the president.
And then Michael Cohen almost said that the president and he were trying to buy out Pecker's organization because they are concerned about what salacious material may be out there. And the first thing that I thought about is, how susceptible is this president to blackmail? What else is out there, and what should the American people know?
BLITZER: Does it concern you, Congressman, that Michael Cohen provided no evidence for at least some of his claims, such as his claim that President Trump had advance knowledge of the WikiLeaks e- mail releases?
KHANNA: Well, I think he pointed -- he testified that that was his knowledge. I think he said that there could be corroboration with the Trump's assistant. Roger Stone could corroborate it.
Again, I think he was credible because he didn't say that Trump knew about the content, but he said Trump was aware of the release.
But here's the thing. You don't have to buy 100 percent of Cohen's testimony and think that all parts were proven. The parts that were proven with a smoking gun document about the financial fraud and the perjury are enough to be very concerned that this president committed crimes.
And even people who are supportive of the president, can they imagine that this lawyer who the Republicans are describing as a convicted felon is going into the Oval Office and the president is directing in his first year of office how he should get paid off?
You couldn't dream these things up in a movie.
BLITZER: What did you make of the approach that we all saw by your Republican colleagues?
KHANNA: Well, I don't think it's effective at the end. They were trying to attack Cohen.
First of all, they were saying Cohen is a liar about coming to Congress and talking about the Moscow project.
Well, here's the fact. Trump has said the exact same thing that Michael Cohen had. So, if you're admitting that Cohen lied, you're by implication saying that Trump has lied to the American public.
But the second thing is, look, Cohen was human. When he started talking about his children, he almost broke down in tears. When he talked about his parents, he grew very emotional. I think he came off as someone who had committed crimes or made mistakes, but was there to redeem himself.
And I don't think the Republican attacks were effective in light of Michael Cohen's emotional testimony.
BLITZER: Congressman Ro Khanna of California, thanks so much for joining us.
KHANNA: Always great to be on, Wolf.
BLITZER: Thank you.
Let's bring in our senior legal analyst, Preet Bharara. He's the former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York.
Preet, you just heard Congressman Ro Khanna talk about the investigations ongoing right now in the Southern District of New York. You used to run that office.
The special counsel, Robert Mueller, has a narrow mandate, but the SDNY, as it's called, doesn't have that same mandate. Do you think the Southern District of New York is what the president should really be worried about right now?
PREET BHARARA, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I used to run that office, as you said, and some people didn't like it, but we viewed our ambit as very, very broad. Crimes committed almost anywhere of any sort, we thought was our responsibility to look at, especially when other offices might not have been as aggressive enough -- might not have been aggressive enough to look at.
So, the ambit is broad. It's not covered by any special counsel regulation or an appointment, like Mueller was by Rod Rosenstein, that's that's set forth in a particular memo that talks about what the scope is supposed to be.
And the motto, I think, of any good U.S. attorney's offices is, if you see a serious federal crime being committed, you investigate it. And if there's enough evidence, beyond a reasonable doubt, then you charge it.
And I think the most troubling thing from the testimony probably for Donald Trump was the fact that Michael Cohen said a lot of things about a lot of matters and some new information, but the one thing that he wouldn't talk about was the ways in which he is cooperating with the Southern District of New York, my former office, with respect to all sorts of investigations that we might not know anything about.
I think that's an ominous sign.
BLITZER: Do you do believe -- based on what we heard from Michael Cohen's testimony today, do you believe President Trump has committed crimes while in office?
BHARARA: Well, I always am loathe to pronounce the fact of a crime being committed from the outside, but you're getting mighty close.
The business about Michael Cohen having pled guilty to a campaign finance violation with respect to the payoff to Stormy Daniels in connection with the election in 2016, he's been convicted of that crime. He admitted that he committed that crime.
And while that itself is not enough evidence to say that some other person who has claimed to have directed him, is enough to say that person committed a crime, you now have more evidence. You have evidence of the check. You have Michael Cohen's clear testimony.
You have the fact that the Southern District of New York believes it, because they put it into a document that they put forward to court, not just Michael Cohen. And you also have common sense.
As Michael Cohen testified -- and he has a lot of baggage and he has a lot of issues, and he should be scrutinized carefully. But common sense is on your side when you say it is not the practice of an average person to out of his own pocket pay $130,000, without consulting with the person for whose benefit that large amount of money has been paid.
And then he goes on to detail stories, not just sort of that are factually interesting and incriminating, but also very detailed, specific, about how Donald Trump, who has a history of not paying people who he owes money to -- and that's been documented time and time again -- took great care in this instance to make sure that what was put forward as a guise of a retainer agreement, but was in fact a payback method to Michael Cohen, that Donald Trump took that seriously and paid him check after check, one of which he brought to Congress today and that has Donald Trump's personal signature on it.
And then on top of all of that -- not to give a long-winded answer -- on top of all of that, you have all the lying and sneaking about the fact that the payment was made and that Donald Trump knew about it.
You have testimony that says Donald Trump specifically told Michael Cohen to lie to a reporter and say that Donald Trump knew nothing about the payment. And the question that prosecutors ask, you have the document, you have the fact of the payment, you have common sense. Why would you pay the money without consulting with your client?
And then you have the lies. And so, in some ways, the nail in the coffin in your argument to the jury in summation on such a thing like this is, put all the other things out of your mind. Why the lies, lie after lie after lie, if you can corroborate it?
So I think it's not a good place for the president.
BLITZER: Cohen described times where he says there was no explicit direction from President Trump, but he felt he knew what the president wanted based on a sort of code that he understood over the decade or so that he worked for Donald Trump.
How revealing was that to you?
BHARARA: Well, that's another example of what some people are growing tired of saying, and the first time it was said seemed kind of a shocking thing to say about a president of the United States and the people who he has assembled around him.
It's the kind of thing you see in mob cases. It's the kind of thing you see in environments in which people do bad things, but they don't want to be on the hook and on the record as asking someone to do a bad thing. That happens all the time.
Part of the testimony that was incredible to me, that we haven't spent a lot of time on all day, because there's so many other things that are going on, at one point, Michael Cohen said in response to a question, how many times did Donald Trump have you or did you believe Donald Trump wanted you to threaten somebody, either through litigation or intimidation or yelling or some other thing, but threaten somebody?
And I think he was first asked, more than 10 times, more than 100 times? He said probably 500 times. So, on the one hand, you see this happen in other organizations, like mob families, and I hate to make that comparison, but if the shoe fits.
On the other hand, it provides a very difficult burden for prosecutors to show it, because just claiming that someone is speaking in code, that maybe can sweep too far. And you need some corroboration of that.
So I think I'm not surprised by it. It seems like it was the M.O. over a period of years. But it's a difficult thing to prove. And that's why people employ that tactic, because it becomes harder to prove later, because you're not using the precise words that would be the most incriminating.
BLITZER: Yes, I just want to be precise. When he says threatened, he said more than 500 times over 10 years the president told him to go threaten someone or some organization, but with the lawsuit threats and other threats, not necessarily physical threats. Is that the way you understood it?
BHARARA: No, correct. I want to be very clear that he was sweeping broadly about what threats mean. And there were a lot of different things.
But we know -- we have seen himself -- we have seen Michael Cohen himself engage in intimidating tactics and thuggish tactics in the way he's talked to reporters. And some of that, by the way, came back to haunt him in testimony today.
Some Republicans, trying to undermine his credibility, threw some of his words back at him when he told a reporter things are going to get very ugly. I imagine that's one of the 500.
BLITZER: What did you make of the Republicans questioning during this, what, eight-, nine-hour hearing?
BHARARA: So, my overall impression of congressional questioning is not a high one with respect to both sides on all hearings.
I also think the mechanism by which it's done, because they have perhaps no choice, because everyone wants to get their questioning in, five-minute increments to examine someone on something important is very difficult. So, overall, I think people don't do a good job on this.
With respect to the Republicans specifically today, I thought there was far too much time spent, for their purposes -- if they wanted to actually undermine the case, for their purposes, they spent far too much time talking about potential book deals and movie deals.
I don't know what they were trying to prove. I don't know how that undermined Michael Cohen's credibility.
There's a lot to attack Michael Cohen on. He is a mixed bag. He has a lot of baggage. And the fact that he spent a lot of time on that, I thought, was telling.
Second, I thought the fact that almost no one spent any time sort of getting into the factual allegations and defending the President from them or trying to undermine the fact or the internal consistency of what Michael Cohen was saying with a couple of limited exceptions, I thought that was telling also. So, overall, I don't give them a great grade.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN THE SITUATION ROOM: Preet Bharara, he worked on Capitol Hill before he went become a U.S. attorney, so you know something about Capitol Hill. You've been watching these hearings for a long time and not necessarily impressed all the time by these questions from lawmakers. Preet, thanks so much for joining us.
BHARARA: Thanks, Wolf. Okay.
BLITZER: All right. Let's dig deep with our correspondents and our analysts. And, Jamie Gangel, of everything Michael Cohen said today, what jumped out to you potentially as the most damaging to the President?
JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: I think the personal things were chilling when he says he's a conman and a racist, and even worse, behind the scenes. But I think what Preet just said about lying and the potential for suborning perjury, that's what I think, in the end, could have the biggest impact for this reason. If there isn't going to be an indictment, and we don't think that there is going to be an indictment, then what do you do with impeachment? Will there by articles of impeachment? And look around. What do you see when you look back at Richard Nixon or Bill Clinton? Perjury, obstruction of justice.
So I think the lying and getting other people to lie, financial fraud, these - that's really dangerous.
BLITZER: Well, what do you think about that from your legal perspective, Laura?
LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: I mean, I think Jamie makes a good point, it's the lies and why all the lies. And I think a lot of people have
raised the issue of campaign finance being the first and foremost. We've known about that from the Southern District of New York already. Michael Cohen added, I think, some extra details today. For the first time, we learned that he discussed with him as late as February of 2018 talking out ways to make sure that the press didn't know about his role in structuring the payments.
Now, lying to the press is not a crime.
GANGEL: But while he was president.
JARRETT: But he's - while he was president. And it goes to the question of why go to all of this trouble in order to structure these payments in such a way to cover them up in such a way. I think that it's the lies.
BLITZER: Sara Murray is joining us as well. She's done a lot of reporting on the WikiLeaks-Roger Stone connection. You heard, Sara, Cohen - Michael Cohen say the President had advanced knowledge from Roger Cohen about the WikiLeaks email drop. He didn't provide evidence of that other than overhearing what he said was a conversation. What did you make of that?
SARA MURRAY, CNN : Well, that's right. And this is one of those, you know, worst kept secrets in Washington things. I mean, we knew this was something that Michael Cohen, before this hearing, had claimed he had heard. But this is now him saying it under oath, which is, of course, a big deal, even for someone who has credibility problems like Michael Cohen. He's now trying to come clean. And he is saying that Donald Trump and Roger Stone did have this conversation where Roger Stone said that WikiLeaks is going to drop damaging information, and just days later, that happened. And just days after that, Donald Trump was out there publicly telling Russia that they should Release Hillary Clinton's emails.
It is worth noting though that Roger Stone has vehemently denied that he ever had this conversation with Donald Trump about WikiLeaks. He continued to deny that today. And Donald Trump, for his part, has said he has no recollection of this conversation. And this is one of those hard things, Wolf, where it's hard to figure out what exactly went on because even Michael Cohen himself acknowledged there's no corroborating evidence for this.
BLITZER: We know, Phil Mudd, that the Special Counsel Robert Mueller approved, said it was okay for Michael Cohen to appear before this committee today in open session. What does that say to you?
PHIL MUDD, FORMER CIA COUNTERRORISM OFFICIAL: The most significant thing it says to me is that whatever Cohen told the committee is something they also told, I suspect, the Special Counsel. Everybody who talks about Cohen lying, like if he lies and the Special Counsel is watching that live, like we did today, the Special Counsel is going to say, that's a federal violation.
The other thing I'd say in terms of looking at Cohen's veracity, his cooperation with the Special Counsel, is there is way too much focus on whether Michael Cohen is trustworthy. Let me give you one example. $35,000 check, which I think was significant. You can talk to the accountant. He's got a plea deal. The accountant is going to say, this is why I cut the check. You can look at the financial records of Michael Cohen and say are there records of $35,000 checks? You can ask Stormy Daniels. When did you get checks and do they correspond with when Michael Cohen got checks?
So forget about whether he's truthful or not. Is there verifying information? I suspect there is.
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: He said the check was FedExed to me.
TOOBIN: Let's see the FedEx records. I mean, you know, real investigators do that kind of work. And there is lots of surrounding evidence that if you were going to research this, you could get. JARRETT: But it also means, Wolf, that everything that came out of his mouth today is not only, obviously, issues that the Special Counsel and the Southern District of New York already know about, but that that piece of the investigation is no longer under investigation.
And at least for all intents and purposes closed, because he was very clear about the issues he couldn't talk about and he, again, for the first time today, reveals that after he gets raided in April, he has another conversation with the President, and he says he can't talk about that. We don't know what the subject is. But he says it is part of the Southern District of New York's investigation. And there's another piece of it that we still don't know about.
So I think the fact he said everything that he said today, and we weren't sure where the lines he was going to draw on Russia were, shows that is over.
BLITZER: Because that, Jamie, was pretty explosive when he said, I can't discuss what the U.S. attorney in the Southern District of New York is doing right now, other than to say, they're investigating the President of the United States.
GANGEL: Right. He did it a couple of times. And this is huge because, guess what, it's not over yet. They are still looking at things. And the Southern District of New York is going to be a problem for him. You know, maybe not with indictments now, maybe when he leaves office or maybe just in providing evidence that makes the democrats in the House want to file articles of impeachment.
One other point about Robert Mueller, he didn't just take Michael Cohen's word. That's not his style. He is a just the facts kind of person. So Michael Cohen had the most to lose by lying today, more prison time potentially. And Mueller didn't give this testimony his blessing without having -- believing it and having corroborating evidence.
BLITZER: You heard the republicans, Jeffrey, say, point after point after point, he's a liar. You can't believe a word he says. He's a criminal. He's going to jail. Why are we even having this hearing? Why did we allow him to come up here and testify? They were blasting him.
TOOBIN: Right. Like every mafia trial I've been to, the cooperating witness, like you're a bum, you're a convicted criminal, and juries often wind up believing those sorts of insiders.
I thought one of the most interesting moments, it came up a couple of times. It was during this sort of hostile cross-examination from the republicans when Cohen looked at the republicans and said, you know, I used to do just what you're doing. I used to be the attack dog that tried to discredit critics of Trump. You're going to wind up regretting it like I regretted it.
And, you know, maybe that's true, maybe it's not. But there was an interesting psychological dimension to that. And, you know, maybe he's right.
MUDD: And what a joke that was. As someone who was involved in investigations, we just talked about, if you want a serious question about what happened with the check, go ask FedEx if they transmitted the check. Go ask Stormy Daniels, where's your financial records, instead you're a liar because because they won't do a real investigation. If you want to know what happened with Julian Assange and Roger Stone, I want to see phone and email. Is there a connection between them?
Elijah Cummings comes out today as a hero. He was terrific. For every American who doesn't like the process, watch him. For just about everybody else, that was a comedy. That was not an investigation.
BLITZER: Stand by. Everybody stand by. We have much more breaking news, and there's a lot of it right after this.
[18:42:51] BLITZER: More now on the breaking news. Extraordinary congressional testimony by the former Trump fixer and personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, accusing the President of the United States of criminal acts and of lies.
And we also heard a lot, Jamie Gangel, about a guy named Allen Weisselberg. A lot of people don't know who he is. But for 40 years, he's been the Chief Financial Officer over at the Trump Organization. He has limited immunity in exchange for his cooperation. I've always felt that he has a lot, a lot of information that potentially could be very damaging to his boss, the President.
GANGEL: He is supposed to have the keys to the kingdom. He worked for Donald Trump's father. He knows what the children are doing. He is supposed to know everything about the organization. And how many times Laura and I were laughing, what name did we hear over and over again? Weisselberg, Weisselberg. I think there is a real chance that the committee will call him to testify. Maybe the other name we heard, Rhona Graff, Donald Trump's longtime assistant, who has sat outside his door for decades, frequently with the door open hearing everything that's going on.
And, you know, some of these people may have already spoken to the Southern District or to Mueller, and we just don't know yet.
BLITZER: I used to interview Donald Trump when he was a private citizen for about 20 years. Maybe once or twice a year, I'd go to that office, I'd see Rhona Graff, I'd see Allen Weisselberg, they were sitting there. They know a lot.
JARRETT: And, clearly, I mean, every time single time Michael Cohen was asked, well, who else would know about that, who was in the room, Weisselberg was the name he constantly went back to. Even in the '90s going back that far when Michael Cohen didn't even work for Donald Trump, he said, Well, I can tell you one person who would know about that, it's the CFO, Weisselberg.
Now, we know that he was provided with limited immunity.
BLITZER: So tell us what that means, limited immunity in exchange for his cooperation with the U.S. attorney in the Southern District of New York.
JARRETT: Exactly. So he was provided with limited use immunities in order to be able to testify in front of the grand jury about the hush money payments. That cooperation, as far as we know, may be all over.
[18:45:01] LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: And so, in order for him to testify in front of Congress, they may have to offer him immunity for him to tell everything that he knows. Whether he will agree to it, we don't know yet.
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Well, he has no choice. If they give him immunity, he has to testify. The question is whether the committee will actually make that decision.
JARRETT: Go through and compel him to.
BLITZER: Same for David Pecker, the head of American Media, the parent company of the "National Enquirer", he received limited immunity as well.
TOOBIN: And presumably, if they have good lawyers, which I think they do, they will not testify without immunity in front of Congress. Can I raise another --
BLITZER: Of course you can.
TOOBIN: Just one remark that Cohen made that we haven't talked about that I thought was so bizarre and so interesting. He said they were asking, why did you decide to cooperate? You know, why did you change sides?
He said, I was concerned that if Donald Trump won't leave office, if he loses the election, like, what? I mean, that had never occurred to me before.
BLITZER: His closing statement he said that.
JARRETT: A peaceful transition of power.
TOOBIN: A peaceful transition of power. And I was thinking, boy, I wonder -- I would like him to elaborate.
BLITZER: Me, too, because he was suggesting that there could be, what, violence or he could resist?
TOOBIN: January 20th, you know --
BLITZER: If he's not re-elected. TOOBIN: We'll see. Boy, that was a very striking comment.
JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: He used a word earlier in his testimony. He used the word autocrat when he was telling the story about how Donald Trump really believes he could go out on Fifth Avenue and shoot someone and get away with it. And then he said autocrat. And I think it speaks to the same.
BLITZER: But on the key issue of -- Phil, I want you to weigh in on this, on collusion. The president keeps saying no collusion, no collusion. This is what Michael Cohen said today.
Questions have been raised about whether I know of direct evidence that Mr. Trump or his campaign colluded with Russia. I do not. I want to be clear. But I have my suspicions.
And then he went on to elaborate all of the suspicions, why there may have been collusion.
PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Irrelevant. There's two investigations here. There's a Washington investigation. People like Manafort who were in communication with suspect Russian agents. That's a collusion investigation.
There's a New York piece. Think what happened to the Trump Organization. Think what happened to Trump U. That happens before those acts of fraud happened before the election.
Cohen knows about money. He doesn't -- so I don't know why they're asking about collusion. He's a money guy.
TOOBIN: The Steele dossier has an allegation that Michael Cohen met with Russian operatives in Prague. Cohen shot that down completely and that, I think, is -- was a worthwhile, exculpatory piece of evidence that came out for the president.
BLITZER: Because he was asked, did you go to Prague? He said I've never been to Prague or the Czech Republic.
TOOBIN: You know, a couple of times during his testimony, you know, there were places where he could have incriminated the president more and went out of his way not to. He talks about this conversation with -- where he overheard between Donald Trump Jr. and his father which he thinks was about the Trump Tower meeting in June of 2016, but it's pretty vague as he acknowledges.
If he was really trying to gild the lily, if he was trying to incriminate Donald Trump, he would have made that conversation a lot more definitive. He was also asked about rumors of abuse between Donald Trump and Melania Trump, and he was categorical in saying not only didn't I see it, I didn't think -- I don't think it would ever happen.
BLITZER: Because there was a rumor there may have been some elevator video of the president getting physical with his wife.
GANGEL: And he said that would never happen. Mr. Trump would never do that.
And to Jeffrey's point, I think it was moments like that, where he still showed some loyalty, relationship with them that made his testimony overall more authentic.
JARRETT: And it's something the special counsel's office has said they appreciated from him as well, is that when he didn't know something, he said it and he didn't overstep. They made a point to say, especially as it relates to topics they're interested in, that he was very clear to be clear, at least when he wasn't sure about something and appreciated that he wasn't just trying to just fill in the gaps.
TOOBIN: And, by the way, who works with someone for ten years and still calls him Mr. Trump? I mean, you know, it's not like he's royalty or something.
GANGEL: A lot of people who work with Mr. Trump do call him that.
BLITZER: I think everyone who worked at the Trump Organization knew they couldn't call him Donald or Donny. They had to call him Mr. Trump.
TOOBIN: The only person I know like that is you, you make everyone call you Mr. Blitzer, other than that --
BLITZER: Other than that --
TOOBIN: -- I'd never heard of this.
BLITZER: Everybody, stick around. There's much more we need to discuss right after this.
[18:52:23] BLITZER: The breaking news tonight, the spectacle of the former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen giving damning testimony against the president before Congress while Mr. Trump is on the other side of the world meeting with North Korea, North Korea's dictator Kim Jong-un.
Our chief White House correspondent Jim Acosta is working that part of the story for us. He's joining us live from Hanoi in Vietnam.
Jim, the president met one-on-one already with Kim. They had dinner.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. And last night, when they had diner here in Hanoi, we were all waiting to see whether or not the president would comment on the upcoming testimony of Michael Cohen. He refused to take questions from reporters on that.
He did put a tweet out just before Michael Cohen testified saying that what Michael Cohen did were bad things unrelated to Trump. And then as we saw throughout the testimony all day long in Washington, Michael Cohen was testifying that he did bad things very much related to Donald Trump.
And so, we're now bracing for the impact to see whether or not the president decides to weigh in and pose some kind of tweet before he has the sit-down meetings with the North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un here in Vietnam. They're expected to talk about, of course, the U.S. wish that North Korea denuclearize.
But, Wolf, all day long, the president is going to be hearing questions about Michael Cohen. He has a press conference later on this afternoon at 4:00 here Hanoi time, 4:00 in the morning for you back in Washington.
And, Wolf, I think it's unmistakable that the president is going to be asked about all of these damning things that Michael Cohen testified, getting back to these bad things relates to the president, talking about the president as to whether or not he directed payments to the porn star Stormy Daniels to cover up an alleged relationship with her, adjusting Michael Cohen's testimony when it comes to the Trump Tower Moscow project, Michael Cohen's claims that the president was trying to hide what he really owed in his taxes and what he really should have been paying to insurance companies for his properties and so on. Just lie after lie after lie that Michael Cohen was testifying that the president was essentially directing him to issue to the public over the course of his career as a personal fixer for Donald Trump.
And, Wolf, it was just remarkable, because I've known Michael Cohen for some time now, having covered that campaign. And we all know Michael Cohen is being somebody who, as he liked to tell people, would take a bullet for the president. But he went from essentially the fixer for the president, to somebody who almost sounded like they were full blown resistance by the end of the hearing and when Michael Cohen said directly to the president, Mr. President Trump, you need to take responsibility for your dirty deeds, that is just low-hanging fruit and bait for the president, and it's hard that he's not going to want to respond to that before of the end of the day, Wolf.
[18:55:05] BLITZER: Jim Acosta in Hanoi for us, we'll stay very close touch with you as well. Thank you.
And there's more breaking news from Michael Cohen's dramatic congressional testimony. New details emerging of an alleged scheme by President Trump to buy a portrait of himself at an inflated price and make his charity pay for it.
Brian Todd is working this part of the story for us.
So, what are you finding out, Brian?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, tonight, we've got new information on that transaction and on others. Excuse me, where Trump allegedly got his charity to buy portraits at auction, at least two of them portraits of Trump himself. And we spoke to financial ethics experts, excuse me, who say the transactions were illegal. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
TODD (voice-over): This painting auctioned off for charity in 2013 wasn't just a likeness of Donald Trump. Michael Cohen says it was a portrait of his ego.
MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER ATTORNEY TO DONALD TRUMP: Mr. Trump directed to find a straw bidder to purchase a portrait of him that was being auctioned off at an Art Hampton's event.
TODD: The painting by noted artist William Quigley was one of several portraits being sold to benefit a local performing arts center and Cohen says Trump wanted to walk away as the biggest winner.
COHEN: The objective was to ensure that this portrait which was going to be auctioned last would go for the highest price of any portrait that afternoon.
TODD: Cohen even pointed to this tweet from Trump around the time of the auction. Quote: Just found out that at a charity auction of celebrity portraits, my portrait topped list at $60,000.
Cohen told the committee Trump even sent him this article on the sale, crediting him with making it happen. The only problem, Cohen says Donald Trump didn't pay for it. His charity did.
COHEN: Mr. Trump directed the Trump Foundation, which is supposed to be a charitable organization, to repay the fake bidder, despite keeping the art for himself.
TODD: Ethics experts say it's not illegal to use a straw or fake bidder to buy something at auction. What is, they say, is Trump using his foundation, a charity, to reimburse that bidder.
LARRY NOBLE, FINANCIAL & POLITICAL ETHICS EXPERT: What is illegal is to use your charitable funds for personal gain. So, they bought the painting and then he used the painting himself, he kept it for himself.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And what happened to the painting?
COHEN: I believe it's in one of the clubs.
TODD: Could Trump be prosecuted for this?
NOBLE: Well, one, he is president. So, the Department of Justice said they will not indict a sitting president. And the second one is they did close down the charity and as in of itself, it's one event, they may not think it warrants criminal prosecution. Now, if this is a pattern or practice of himself dealing with charity, you may get a different result.
TODD: And this could be part of a pattern. "The Washington Post's" David Fahrenthold who's written about the Trump Foundation's purchases tweeted that the portrait Cohen refers to is the third painting allegedly bought with his charity's money. "The Post" reported on another portrait of Trump auctioned in 2014 which it says Trump paid for with a check from his charity for $10,000. A couple of years later, a guest tweeted out a picture of that portrait hanging in a bar at Trump's Doral Resort near Miami.
And there was another portrait which Trump won a bid for at auction in 2007, paid for with a check from the Trump foundation for $20,000. Hillary Clinton picked up on at least one of these transactions during the campaign.
HILLARY CLINTON (D), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Took money from other people and bought a six-foot portrait of Donald. I mean, who does that.
TODD: Why would Trump have done all of this and risked prosecution? Biographers say it is about ego and brand enhancement.
DAVID CAY JOHNSTON, AUTHOR, "THE MAKING OF DONALD TRUMP": A key element of Donald's branding is that everything he does is the best. It allowed him to say, see how important I am. All these art in the Hamptons and what was the most valuable thing that people wanted most, it was a portrait of me.
TODD: The Trump Foundation agreed to dissolve in December. We reached out to an attorney for the foundation, also to the White House and to Trump campaign for comment on Michael Cohen's testimony about the portraits and the Trump Foundation reimbursement for the portraits. They didn't get back to us on any of that.
But President Trump had previously issued a broader denial that the Trump foundation had done anything wrong. He denied that the foundation had done nothing wrong there, Wolf, for years.
BLITZER: Brian, these portrait purchases were not the only transactions where it is alleged that the Trump Foundation was improperly used to benefit Trump's family. Is that right?
TODD: That's right, Wolf. Michael Cohen today also talked about a deal he negotiated where a Ukrainian oligarch wanted Trump to speak at some Ukrainian economic forum. Cohen said he negotiated $150,000 fee for a 15-minute Skype appearance for Trump, a fee to be paid to the Trump Foundation instead to Trump himself ostensibly, so Trump wouldn't have to pay taxes on it. There have been a host of those violations regarding his foundation over the years and that is why the foundation had to shut down.
BLITZER: As you know, the attorney general in the state of New York is looking into the Trump Foundation right now. We'll see you what happens on that front.
Brian Todd, reporting for us -- Brian, thank you very much.
And to our viewers, thanks very much for watching. Follow me on Twitter and Instagram @wolfblitzer. You can tweet the show @CNNSitRoom. "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.