Return to Transcripts main page
ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES
The President and the Porn Star; Porn Star's Attorney: "No Question" Trump Knew About Payoff; Attorney: Threats Against Stormy Daniels Have Continued Until a Few Hours Ago; NY Times: Pres. Trump Spoke with Key Witnesses about Matters Discussed with Special Counsel. Aired on 8-9p ET
Aired March 7, 2018 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[20:00:13] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Good evening.
What did the president know and when did he know it? That was the question Senator Howard Baker famously asked about Richard Nixon during Watergate.
Tonight keeping him honest, the question surfaces again. What did the president know and when did he know it about buying the silence and recent legal action to reinforce that silence about a porn staff extramarital affair in the run up to the election?
And despite how sordid that may sound, this is not history repeating itself as farce. It's not the nondisclosure or hush agreement that Stormy Daniels is now suing to declare void -- and you'll hear from her attorney in just a moment -- nor is this the first -- nor is this just about the affair that she says took place 12 years ago, nor the name, David Dennison, and the nondisclosure agreement her lawyer says is an alias for President Trump.
It's not even a suggestion in the lawsuit that Daniels, who is Peggy Peterson in the nondisclosure agreement, and Stephanie Clifford, off camera, may have compromising photos or texts from the man who was when she signed the hush agreement just days away from being elected president.
As fascinating or disturbing as all of that may be, this is serious for many reasons especially because the White House is not telling the truth about what the president knows and when he knew it, about the $130,000 his attorney Michael Cohen arranged to pay Daniels.
Listen to Sarah Sanders at the White House briefing today and pay close attention to how she answered several key questions from CNN's Jeff Zeleny.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: You said repeatedly that we have addressed our feelings on that situation in regards to the Stormy Daniels payment. Specifically can I ask, did the president approve of the payment that was made in October of 2016 by his long-time lawyer and advisor Michael Cohen? SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Look, the
president has addressed these directly and made very well clear that none of these allegations are true. This case has already been won in arbitration and anything beyond that I would refer you to the president's outside counsel.
ZELENY: When did the president address specifically the cash payment that was made in October of 2016?
SANDERS: The president has denied the allegations against him and, again, this case has already been won in arbitration. Anything beyond that, I would refer you to outside counsel.
ZELENY: Did he know about that payment at the time, though?
SANDERS: I have addressed this as far as I can go.
ZELENY: Did he know about the payment at the time?
SANDERS: Not that I'm aware of. And again, anything beyond what I've already given you, I would refer you to the president's outside counsel.
ZELENY: Michael Cohen, since this has become --
ZELENY: Has he talked to Michael Cohen about it?
SANDERS: I'm sorry?
ZELENY: Has he talked to Michael Cohen about that this week since this has become news?
SANDERS: I don't know. I'm not sure.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: So, did you hear that? She's saying there is no case and it's been won in arbitration.
Again, in a moment, Stormy Daniels' attorney who says nobody won anything that as far from all he says. He says the arbitration is bogus because the nondisclosure agreement is bogus, because David Dennison, allegedly the president, never signed it. He also calls it implausible that this entire NDA was negotiated allegedly on candidate Trump's behalf in the waning days of the presidential campaign without Donald Trump even knowing about it.
Sarah Sanders also said in so many words that this is old news. The president and the White House have addressed this already. She said the president has addressed this directly. That's a quote, addressed this directly.
But keeping him honest that is simply flat out not true. No tweets at all from the President Trump since "The Wall Street Journal" broke the story back in January. No answers from him to questions from reporters. The only response up until now, the only one has been this non-answer, on February 22nd by spokesman Raj Shah, not the president, but the spokesman.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: Last week, the president's personal lawyer acknowledged giving a $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels. Is the president aware that his lawyer paid that kind of money to a porn star to buy her silence? Does he approve of that?
RAJ SHAH, WHITE HOUSE PRINCIPAL DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: I haven't asked him about it, but that matter has been asked and answered in the past.
REPORTER: No, not since -- he acknowledged this. He acknowledges this last week, this is the first time we've had a chance to ask about it. So, can you go back and find out if the president approves of the fact --
SHAH: Yes, I haven't asked him about that.
REPORTER: Will you ask him about that?
SHAH: I haven't asked him about it.
REPORTER: Will you ask him about it, Raj?
SHAH: We'll get back to you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Well, he never did.
And again, the president has not addressed this directly not once. In a moment, we'll talk to Stormy Daniels' attorney. He joins me to answer as many of outstanding questions as we can get to.
But, first, there have been a lot of developments in this story just since last night.
Here's CNN senior investigative correspondent Drew Griffin on where we are now.
DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The lawsuit in explicit detail leaves no doubt Stormy Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, says she had an affair with the president.
Ms. Clifford began an intimate relationship with Mr. Trump in the summer of 2006 in Lake Tahoe, the lawsuit claims, and that in October 2016, Mr. Trump, with the assistance of his attorney, Mr. Cohen, aggressively sought to silence Ms. Clifford as part of an effort to avoid her telling the truth, thus helping to ensure he won the presidential election.
[20:05:10] In exchange, Trump's attorney Michael Cohen wired Daniels $130,000 and the arrangement has so far prohibited Daniels from giving any details, leading to a series of bizarre talk show appearances like this.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you have a sexual relationship with Donald Trump?
GRIFFIN: Clifford's lawyer included this so-called hush agreement in the lawsuit, saying it was written by Michael Cohen. It refers to Donald Trump under an alias, David Dennison, and Clifford under the name Peggy Peterson.
According to the hush agreement, Stephanie Clifford came into possession of certain confidential information pertaining to D.D., Trump's alias, which includes information, certain still images and/or text messages. Michael Cohen goes on to write, included in those are images Donald Trump previously presented to his counsel to exist, i.e., text messages between P.P. and D.D.
In other words, Trump told his personal attorney about communications he was having with a porn actress.
JIMMY KIMMEL, COMEDIAN: You can't say whether you have a nondisclosure agreement. But if you didn't have a nondisclosure agreement, you most certainly could say, I don't have a nondisclosure agreement. Yes?
STORMY DANIELS, ADULT FILM STAR: You're so smart, Jimmy.
KIMMEL: Thank you very much.
GRIFFIN: Also new and potentially damning if true is what happened little more than a week ago. The president's attorney tried yet again to silence Clifford on or about February 27, 2018. Mr. Trump's attorney, Mr. Cohen, surreptitiously initiated a bogus arbitration proceeding against Ms. Clifford in Los Angeles, the lawsuit says, in an attempt to intimidate Ms. Clifford into silence and shut her up.
But Clifford is now eager to talk and explained why she claims she was coerced into signing a false statement that the affair didn't happen. According to the lawsuit, any breach of the contract would mean Clifford would be obligated to pay the sum of $1 million.
(on camera): President Trump through his attorney Michael Cohen has denied the affair took place. Cohen says Mr. Trump did not know about the payment he made to Ms. Clifford to keep quiet. All of that now under question by this lawsuit.
Drew Griffin, CNN, Atlanta.
COOPER: Well, shortly before air time, I spoke with Stormy Daniels' attorney, Michael Avenatti. We're airing the conversation in two parts. Here's part one.
COOPER: Michael, you're alleging that Michael Cohen been has attempting to intimidate Ms. Clifford into silence and shut her up. How has he attempted to do that?
MICHAEL AVENATTI, STORMY DANIELS' ATTORNEY: Well, he's actually, Anderson, attempted to do that by means of a number of steps, including filing this bogus arbitration against her, communicating to her prior counsel, making threats to her relating to what may happen to her from a legal perspective in the event she does not deny allegations of the affair, et cetera.
COOPER: How recent have these threats in your words been?
AVENATTI: These threats continued until in fact only a few hours ago when Mr. Rosen, Lawrence Rosen, the attorney who now purports to represent Mr. Cohen and the entity EC LLC sent email correspondence to me, threatening that if Ms. Daniels continues to talk, she may be subjected to significant additional damages.
COOPER: I want to ask you about this arbitration. You say back I think it was February 27, that Michael Cohen, quote, surreptitiously initiated a bogus arbitration proceeding against Ms. Clifford in Los Angeles. Can you describe what happened?
AVENATTI: Well, our understanding and quite honestly we are looking into this, Anderson, but our understand is, is that Mr. Cohen on behalf of the entity EC went into ADR Services in Los Angeles, filed an arbitration proceeding, managed to get ADR Services to appoint an arbitrator immediately, then managed to get that arbitrator to issue a temporary restraining order against Ms. Daniels. He did so without any notice to Ms. Daniels, no prior notice to Ms. Daniels --
COOPER: She didn't know this was happening?
AVENATTI: She had absolutely no idea. And that was by design of Mr. Cohen. She had no idea it was happening, no opportunity to respond, no opportunity to present her case, no opportunity to have a hearing prior to the issuance of the order. And quite honestly, the entire process is absolutely untoward and improper.
And to make matters worse, EC pursuant to the agreement which, of course, we alleged is invalid.
[20:10:06] EC pursuant to that agreement, section 5.1.1, doesn't have the ability to go if and obtain such a restraining order. That would have to be accomplished by way of DD, otherwise known as President Trump.
So, EC didn't have standing to pursue this, which is why we find the statement by Ms. Sanders and I am sure that she was not told the truth before she stood at the podium today and made the representation that she did, but we find her statement that President Trump has already, quote, "won", close quote, this arbitration to be absolutely bogus and baseless.
COOPER: But if they were able to get a temporary restraining order, wouldn't that indicate that they had won that round of arbitration?
AVENATTI: Well, who is they? I mean, according to Mr. Cohen, this was pursued on behalf of EC and not DD or President Trump. And if there's one thing we know of the last four to six weeks, is that Mr. Cohen and others close to the Trump administration has made it clear that EC is not President Trump.
COOPER: I mean, your client did agree to arbitration at the time she sign the agreement, didn't she?
AVENATTI: She agreed to arbitration but that agreement fell by the wayside when the party to that agreement, namely Mr. Trump at the time did not sign it. That agreement is null and void. It doesn't mean anything.
COOPER: Can you tell us about this arbitration? Can you tell us who appeared on Michael Cohen's behalf, on -- you are saying nobody appeared on Mr. Trump's behalf because this wasn't -- technically, this was just the LLC running bringing up the arbitration?
AVENATTI: That's correct. That's -- to the best of our knowledge. I mean, Anderson, at this point, you know as much about this arbitration as we do, because nobody bothered to tell us about it before it happened. Nobody bothered to invite my client to the party, if you will, which makes issuance of the order even that more curious.
That it happened within a matter of hours, all in an effort -- and I want to be really clear about this, all in an effort to keep this matter under wraps, keep it out of public view, hide the facts and silence my client. There is a pattern in practice that is governed the way that my client has been dealt with by Mr. Cohen and President Trump for months. And that pattern and practice, Anderson, has continued up until even a few hours ago.
COOPER: An attorney for Michael Cohen put out a statement a short while ago today saying, quote, the designated judge from the arbitration tribunal found that Ms. Clifford had violated the agreement and enjoined her from among other things filing this lawsuit.
I mean, have you gotten a ruling? Have you seen this judge's ruling?
AVENATTI: We have seen the temporary restraining order that was issued within hours of the filing. I don't know if any hearing that took place, I don't know of any findings that took place and again, our position is that we don't belong in arbitration. This matter belongs in a court of law, a public court of law, a court of law owned by the people and open to the public. That's why we filed the matter in a court of law yesterday. We do not belong in arbitration and we're not going to proceed in
COOPER: You are also alleging that Mr. Cohen forced Ms. Clifford to sign a false statement, saying that reports of her relationship with Mr. Trump are false. How did he force her? I mean, do you have any evidence of that documentation of any sort?
AVENATTI: There were significant threats made directed at Ms. Daniels, Ms. Clifford that if she did not sign, that various things would happen to her. And I think --
COOPER: Legally speaking.
AVENATTI: Legally speaking, correct. And I think when and if she provides a statement publicly about this entire matter, I think when the truth is known, the general public will likewise conclude that she felt like she had no choice but to go along with the demands of Attorney Cohen.
COOPER: Does it put her credibility, though, in question in some people's eyes? Just a few weeks ago, she was saying, look, this never happened. And now, she says it did.
AVENATTI: Well, I think, of course it puts her credibility at issue and raises questions about it. I would -- it would be absurd for me to claim otherwise. But I think once she gives her statement and sits down for an interview and hopefully she will have that opportunity, our position is that we want to give her an opportunity to make her statement, to tell about what happened, and then we are going to let the American public decide for their own on their own who is telling the truth and who is pulling the wool over their eyes. It's really that simple.
COOPER: In a moment, we'll have the rest of the conversation, including his answer to the question, why not speak out fully right now?
Later, there's breaking news. It could spell yet more Russia trouble for President Trump. New reporting that special counsel Mueller has learned the president has asked key witnesses about what they discussed with investigators. Details on that when we continue.
[20:18:43] COOPER: We are talking tonight about what's become the fast moving story regarding the effort by President Trump's personal attorney, Michael Cohen, to keep Stormy Daniels, the adult film star, silent about the affair she alleges took place between them.
Also about the agreement that she signed, the payment she got from Attorney Cohen and the lawsuit she's filed now to overturn the nondisclosure agreement.
Before the break, I asked Daniels' attorney Michael Avenatti why maintain silence on this at all anymore?
COOPER: If the agreement is void, then why not just got ahead and violate it? I mean, you have nothing to worry about if it's not a real contract. Why bothered going to court at all?
AVENATTI: Well, in light of the constant threats by Mr. Cohen and others, my client is concerned and wants a court of law to adjudicate that, in fact, she is free from the agreement. I mean, we've already heard threats of $1 million per incident, per instance were -- if my client were to come forward and talk about what happened and tell the truth about what happened regardless, by the way, they want to ding her for a million dollars whether she tells the truth or doesn't tell the truth.
Just the mere fact that she speaks in their mind entitles them to $1 million in each instance. That is one significant threat to say the least. And by the way, we think that that's unconscionable and is another reason why the agreement would have to be thrown out.
[20:20:02] The mere suggestion of that is absurd.
COOPER: The lawsuit claims, quote, it strains credibility to conclude that Mr. Cohen is acting on his own accord, without the expressed approval and knowledge of his client Mr. Trump. Are you referring specifically to the arbitration or to Mr. Cohen's alleged actions writ large?
AVENATTI: Anderson, I'm referring -- we are referring to it all. The suggestion that you would have an experienced, educated attorney like Mr. Cohen who would run off, half-cocked without any knowledge of his client, that he would negotiate and draft a detailed agreement that included his client as a party, that he would engage in weeks of negotiation, that he would reach agreement, that he would then send $130,000 in connection with that agreement, that he would then later institute an arbitration proceeding without knowledge of his client, all of this to those of us that practice under the law as attorneys, it's ludicrous.
COOPER: Wouldn't it be unethical?
AVENATTI: Absolutely. We have an ethical obligation to inform our clients at all times of all material facts. It's one of the basic tenets of what we do. And the idea that somehow President Trump didn't know anything about this and that Attorney Cohen was just running off and doing what he thought was best without any consultation with President Trump, it is patently absurd.
COOPER: You do acknowledge though in your lawsuit and I, quote, the extent of Mr. Trump's involvement in these efforts is presently unknown. So, you don't have actual evidence, this is just a supposition on your part based, I mean, frankly, ethics and common sense?
AVENATTI: Well, here's what I will say. We are not going to disclose at this point all of the facts and evidence that we have substantiated in the allegations and the complaint, nor would we have set that all forward in the complaint. I mean, that -- just to be smart.
But we certainly have more facts and evidence to support the allegation or allegations, I should say, than what has been already disclosed.
I mean, also, keep if mind the timing of this. We're not talking about an agreement that was entered into at some point in time where nothing significant was transpiring in Mr. Trump's life. We are talking about an agreement that was being negotiated and entered into in the waning days of the 2016 presidential election. An election at the time was very close, at a time where anything could happen and a slightest misstep could cause a candidate to lose the presidency of the United States.
And yet Mr. Cohen expects the American people to believe that he was running off on his own and entering into this without any consultation with the candidates for the president of the United States, Mr. President? It's not believable. It doesn't make sense.
COOPER: Do you view the money that Mr. Daniels received as campaign contribution regardless of who the money actually came from? Do you view it as a campaign contribution?
AVENATTI: Anderson, we don't view it one way or another. I think individuals that are more qualified and educated on those laws and regulations are ultimately going to opine on that. Ultimately, if they conclude that in fact it was -- Katy bar the door. I mean, I don't know where that ends. But if in fact that is the conclusion, I think that President Trump and the White House could certainly have significant problems.
But again, that's not -- that's not for us to opine on.
COOPER: Is Katy bar a legal term?
AVENATTI: No, it's a Southern term.
COOPER: Can you explain just in non-legalese what Ms. Clifford wants? Because most viewers don't know what a declaratory judgment is? Does she want money, does she want freedom to sell her story or tell her story to other media outlets? I mean, is that what this is about?
AVENATTI: This is about freedom of speech at this point, Anderson. There's been a significant amount of misinformation that has been disseminated over the last six weeks. And remarkably, a lot of it has been at the hands of Attorney Cohen, Mr. Cohen.
My client wants an opportunity to tell her story, to tell the truth about what happened and what didn't happen. To tell the truth about the events not only relating to her relationship with the president, but also the conduct in what she has witnessed over the last 12 to 18 months as it relates to efforts to silence her. She wants an opportunity to set the record straight. Ultimately, she wants the opportunity for the American people to pass
judgment as to who is telling the truth. Is it her or is it Mr. Cohen? Is it her or is it President Trump. Is it her or is it Ms. Sanders? That's what my client wants and that's what we're going to fight for.
COOPER: Our chief legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin said that contract to him reads like kind of a form that maybe has been used before. I mean, are you aware of any other women who signed similar contracts with President Trump?
AVENATTI: We're not aware of any other women, but let me just say this, in my experience, the way that this was handled and the documentation, quite honestly, this was amateur hour, Anderson.
[20:25:12] This is very, very sloppy. It's very, very messy. It was shocking, quite honestly, that something of this magnitude was handled in this way in the waning days of the 2016 presidential election.
I have a lot of --
COOPER: What's so sloppy about it?
AVENATTI: I have a lot of respect for Mr. Cohen. I think he is a good attorney in a lot of ways. I don't know the exact circumstances of what happened here. But this is not how something this important should have been handled in my opinion.
COOPER: And just to be clear, Ms. Clifford is not accusing President Trump of any sexual misconduct?
AVENATTI: That is correct.
COOPER: And in terms -- I mean, just finally, where does this go from here procedurally? How long does the president's legal team have to respond? Do you have any sense of what the time frame is?
AVENATTI: Well, defendants in the case have approximately 30 days to respond in court. Hopefully, we can expedite that. Hopefully, they'll expedite it. There's no sense in dragging this out.
Again, you know, I think it's pretty simple. Did the president know about the negotiation, the terms, the payment of the money or not? Did he sign the agreement? I mean, there's no -- this doesn't have to be a prolonged process. I mean, we should get right to it.
COOPER: Michael Avenatti, appreciate it. Thank you very much for your time.
AVENATTI: Thank you, Anderson.
COOPER: Well, certainly, a lot to talk about there. In just a moment, we'll have some of the finest legal and political minds in the business weigh in on a story of adult film star and the president. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
COOPER: Before the break, we heard from the attorney for Stephanie Clifford aka Stormy Daniels, the adult film actress who is suing President Trump over their alleged affair and his alleged attempt to challenge her.
Her attorney says threats against her have continued, legal threats, right up until a few hours ago, and that it's absurd to think the president didn't know about his lawyer, , Michael Cohen, that he was paying her off right before the election. I asked him if there was any evidence about the extent of Mr. Trump's involvement other than common sense.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHAEL AVENATTI, STORMY DANIEL'S ATTORNEY: We are not going to disclose at this point all of the facts and evidence that we have substantiating the allegations and the complaint nor would we have set that all forward in the complaint. I mean that just wouldn't be smart. But we certainly have more facts and evidence to support the allegation or allegations I should say than what has already been disclosed.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Joining me now is Jeffrey Toobin, Kirsten Powers and Jason Miller.
All right, Jeff.
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: OK.
TOOBIN: Legally, there's one very important question, which is, is this a valid contract in the first place? And because if it is, Stormy Daniels has a serious problem because, you know, she's portraying herself as a victim here. She took $130,000. And in return for her silence, that's a contract. That's binding if -- and she could suffer consequences.
COOPER: Binding even if President Trump through this alias did not sign the contract?
TOOBIN: Well, that's the question. If he didn't sign it, then there's no contract. Then she can do what she wants. She can say whatever she wants. She did take the money. So she did think there was a valid contract. But the question of whether he signed is very, very important. And, you know, the copy of the contract that was attached to her complaint does not have his -- here -- his signature on it.
But, you know, we certainly want to hear from the other side before you make any judgment about whether, you know, whether a signature exists. But if he didn't sign, I think she's free to say whatever she wants.
KIRSTEN POWERS, USA TODAY COLUMNIST: Yes. Well, so the thing is the whole reason behind this allegedly, if we want to take this sort of Trump defender's side, and I don't want to put words in your mouth, but the idea was that it maybe she made this whole thing up and it came up right before the election so they just paid her off. Because even though it's not true, it would be bad that it came out.
Well, we're kind of past that, right? So why not just release her from the agreement and let her talk? I mean it's not -- it would suggest the reason they don't want to release her from the agreement is because she actually has something to say that's very damaging. But the only thing that I can take away from it now because there isn't any reason. It's already out there, right?
JASON MILLER, FORMER SENIOR COMMUNICATIONS ADVISOR, TRUMP CAMPAIGN: So I mean where is Judge Wapner when we need him? I mean we bring him into --
TOOBIN: I'm playing that role.
MILLER: You're playing that role, OK. So Jeffrey is the real lawyer, I just play one on TV so I can't speak to the legal side of this.
I think two important points here. One, I don't understand and I think most people at home understand what this lawsuit is even about. I mean Ms. Clifford is not asking for damages. This is just to go and it seems to be the launch, I guess the second act in her career. So this all seems kind of puzzling to me but even going back to the campaign, the reason why --
COOPER: But if Michael Cohen has -- I mean what they're alleging is Michael Cohen has come forward and made misleading and not true statements and it's unfair in their opinion that she cannot respond and say what actually went on.
MILLER: And again, I can't speak to any of that. I'm not a lawyer and I don't know the nuances and the back and forth. But even going back to the campaign and these allegations against the President, which I think, there's some serious question marks around.
I mean here's I think the fundamental point that I think everybody is missing, if you're somebody who has a story like this and you're going to go and present it to a major party candidate a week or two before the election, then you're making these allegations against a multibillionaire, you're going to settle for $130? I don't think so. I think that's just -- I think it's laughable on its face. I think it's clear that Ms. Clifford is trying to essentially launch second act to the career now.
COOPER: You're saying it's not true because 130,000 wasn't a lot of money? MILLER: That would be nothing. That would be nothing.
MILLER: That would be nothing to -- going after a multibillionaire, I think that's absolutely ridiculous.
COOPER: What -- maybe she had bad attorneys who, you know, settle for a small amount.
POWERS: Yes. I think most people watching thing -- I think $130,000 is a lot of money but also was -- didn't this happen because reporters were reaching out to her and asking her questions and then also the payments weren't coming in? I mean it's not -- I don't think she's trying to launch --
MILLER: No, but she's only embracing it now. She's doing the media tour, she's going to around to Kimmel. She's doing -- was, you know, "Inside Edition" or whatever it is. I mean she's using it to try to launch a second career.
TOOBIN: I think, you know, putting aside this particular narrow legal dispute, one point that I think is disturbing is that the White House really does appear to be lying about the underlying facts. I mean the idea that the White House is putting forward, that Michael Cohen did this on his own without ever informing Donald Trump is so completely preposterous. Plus, he says he paid the money himself. What lawyer has even done that in history?
COOPER: It would be unethical for an attorney to enter into a contract for somebody else without informing that person, wouldn't it?
[20:35:07] TOOBIN: Of course. And at least according to the White House version or at least the Michael Cohen version, Donald Trump signed it. He signed the contract but he didn't know what it was about? It was like well, I guess -- somebody is writing a check to some woman for $130,000, I'm signing the contract and I have no idea what it's about. I mean come on, that's ridiculous.
POWERS: Yes. I mean also the "Wall Street Journal" reported that the reason that the payment was late, according to the Cohen told a friend, is because he couldn't get in touch with Trump, which would suggest that the President did know about it. He complained to friends as well about not being reimbursed.
I just think she should be released to speak. I just -- I don't know what the problem is. Like why can't Michael Cohen just release her and let her say what she has to say.
MILLER: Well, again, that will be for the lawyers to figure out. But going back to the campaign itself, and the only conversations I were had when we're on the campaign was the President just blanket across the board saying all these allegations were ridiculous and completely untrue. But I think the fact now, again, going back to the point what really is the goal here? Is the goal here -- there are specific damages there being sought? Is the goal here to try to get attention? I just don't --
TOOBIN: I can answer your question if you'd like to, is that she is sitting there facing the prospect of a million dollar fine if she talks. So her lawyer says, well, let's go to court and get a court judgment that you will not be liable for that million dollars if you talk. I mean that's what you want.
MILLER: Let's be clear, when we say talk, this is to go and make money by selling the story.
COOPER: Well, you don't know that.
COOPER: Do I honestly believe that she would do an interview and not be paying for it, absolutely.
MILLER: She's already done several --
COOPER: Do you believe that White House is telling the truth?
MILLER: I have no idea about who at the White House knows what. Obviously, it's not a phone call that I made today to ask who knows what, when or anything like that. I mean like I said, the whole thing just kind of seems a little bit --
TOOBIN: But really? But you're a smart guy. Do you think that Donald Trump would sign a piece of paper saying I'm giving $130,000 to Stormy Daniels and not say what's this about?
MILLER: I don't think that President Trump would ever settle or given or --
COOPER: He settles all the time.
TOOBIN: Finish what you're saying. You don't think he would settle if what?
MILLER: No. I would say it doesn't matter who goes and bring something like this to him. I think on the campaign trail, he very clearly across the board said that these were false allegations --
TOOBIN: So why did he sign this agreement for $130,000, if he signed it?
MILLER: Well that's why Anderson is going to try to get to Michael Cohen exclusive interview and we can find out. I can't speak to that.
COOPER: All right. We're going to take a quick break. Jason Miller, Kirsten Powers, Jeff Toobin.
There's more breaking news tonight as well. A new report that special counsel Robert Mueller is learning about conversations between President Trump and key witnesses in the Russian investigation. We have details, next.
[20:41:39] COOPER: Breaking news tonight in the Russia investigation, word that the President has been asking key witnesses about what they talked about with the investigators. And so reporting the "New York Times", Maggie Haberman joins me now on the phone.
So what can you tell us about these conversations, Maggie?
MAGGIE HABERMAN, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Sure. There's two instances, Anderson, in the last couple of months. One involving Reince Priebus, the former chief of staff, which was relatively brief and then one involving Don McGahn, which is much more detailed and specific and I think potentially problematic for the President.
Basically, in one conversation with Reince Priebus back in December at a luncheon in the West Wing with John Kelly, the current Chief of Staff, the President raised the topic of Reince Priebus's appearance before Bob Mueller's investigators essentially if they were nice. And Priebus said if they were nice and professional, Trump I think raised a generic, you know, did they ask about, you know, what's in the news, something that out of fact and then Priebus I think trying to get out of it, says, you know, they asked what you'd expect. And then the conversation moved on. That was a brief one. It's not clear if Kelly tried to intercede.
In the McGahn incident which happened a couple weeks ago, after Mike Schmidt and I reported that the President had sought to fire Robert Mueller last year, the President wanted Don McGahn to put out a statement saying our story was false, which McGahn did not do.
The President did that (INAUDIBLE) then spoke directly to McGahn after that and asked him to put out this statement and McGahn said he would not. And McGahn had to remind the President that he had indeed told him to fire McGahn. And the President said, well, you didn't threaten to me that you would quit if I did this and McGahn said that's true. But I told other senior advisers that the time and our story never said that he had told the President at the time that he did suggest that he would have to quit if this went through in terms of firing Mueller.
This is -- look, I'm not a lawyer and as we spoke to think this doesn't necessarily imply witness obstruction of justice or witness tampering, but it does go against best practices at a minimum. The President's lawyers have urged him repeatedly to avoid doing things that would create even the appearance of seeking to interfere with this investigation, asking questions like that does exactly that.
COOPER: It's incredible, you know, that he would ask Don McGahn to put out this statement. I mean I guess the two options are he knew what he had told Don McGahn, he wanted Don McGahn to lie to for him or he have forgotten it or I guess the third one is he just chose to remember it in a different way.
HABERMAN: Right. I mean it's hard to know as you know, Anderson, this president is no stranger to telling lies or telling falsehood. He is also no stranger to forgetting what he said before and he is no stranger to casting a remark differently the next time around. I'm not in his head. I have no way of knowing exactly what he intended when he asked that question.
But McGahn clearly remembered it otherwise and most significantly, McGahn told the version that he was contesting the President over to Mueller's investigators and lying to federal investigators is a crime. So that carries extra weight.
COOPER: It's fascinating. Maggie Haberman, appreciate it. Thanks very much.
Coming up next, with me here on the set, Senator Bernie Sanders about the chaos in the White House.
[20:39:58] A lot more when we continue.
COOPER: Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, one of many in Washington, I'm assuming, full of questions about all the talk surrounding adult film star Stormy Daniels and President Trump -- kidding. There's also --
COOPER: -- things to discuss with him. So wasting no time, I'm joined now by former 2016 Democratic presidential hopeful, Senator Bernie Sanders. Thanks for being with us.
I do want to ask you one question about this thing. Do you think it would have made any difference had this information about this particular alleged affair had come out during the election?
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS, (I) VERMONT: Probably not. And I got to tell you, Anderson, there are enormous problems facing our country.
COOPER: I knew you were going to say this.
SANDERS: That's right.
COOPER: OK. There are millions of people have no health -- you know, people are going crazy with deductibles and co-payments who can't pay high cost of prescription drugs. We haven't dealt with immigration reform and DACA. We've got a gun crisis out there. All over the country people say let's do something, making sure our schools are safe. And what are we talking about over and over again? Stormy Daniels.
[20:50:03] Let me respectfully suggest that I do not think Stormy Daniels is one of the major issues facing our country.
COOPER: I knew you were going to answer that but I'd ask anyway. Where the administration is right now? I mean the people leaving --
COOPER: Have you -- I mean clearly, nobody has ever seen an administration like this. The -- I mean the security clearance issues, the infighting. If it's not signs of chaos, what is it signs of?
SANDERS: It signs of a president who is, I think, not fit temperamentally to be president of the United States, a guy who -- and I say this without any joy in my heart -- lies all the time, who changes his mind every other day apparently based on the last person who spoke to him. So you have an enormous amount of instability, which is of real concern.
And I would hope that my Republican colleagues in the Senate would begin to understand that and work with us to start moving forward on the important issues facing the American people. And if we do that, I think you'll find Trump coming along. But I think we cannot look to this White House for leadership.
COOPER: You supported tariffs on imported steel in the 2016 campaign. I'm wondering what you think of the President's announcement on tariffs. I should point out, Peter Navarro just on Fox News just a moment ago just said that Mexico and Canada would be exempt temporarily, effectively immediately.
SANDERS: What I have said over and over again, and what I believe is we have a very serious problem in terms of the deindustrialization of the United States of America. We have seen tens of thousands of factories shut down, millions of hard working people, decent people have lost their jobs as factories go to China and Mexico. There are other reasons. Automation plays a role as well. This is an issue that we have got to deal with.
I happen to think we need a more comprehensive approach than what Trump is talking about. I think the main target of our concern has got to be China. We have a $375 billion trade deficit with China. Trump, I think, today, yesterday said that he wants to reduce that by $1 billion. That is not enough. China is dumping steel clearly all over the world. And I think China is the major country that we've got to deal with. I would personally favor the repeal of permanent normal trade relations with China.
COOPER: Doesn't -- I mean doesn't a tariff, a, risk a trade war and, also that while it will help, you know, manufacturing in the United States, it's going to raise prices on cars. It's going to raise prices on --
SANDERS: Well, it depends on how it is done. But I think that we are in a trade war right now, and we're losing that war. And I think demanding that corporate America start reinvesting in this country rather than in China, you look at your cell phone. I don't believe Apple manufactures any cellphones in the United States. It's all done in China. You can't buy a television manufactured in the United States of America.
We have to deal with that issue, and it's not going to be easy. But I think we have to do it in a comprehensive way and demand that American companies are not running to countries where they're paying people two bucks an hour while throwing American workers out on the street. That's wrong.
COOPER: There's legislation in the Senate that would roll back provisions on Dodd/Frank. It's got bipartisan support. They say it's going to help community banks, it's going to help credit unions be more flexible on lending. You're opposed to it.
SANDERS: I am strongly opposed to it.
SANDERS: What this legislation would do is deregulate 25 out of the largest 38 banks in this country. It amazes me how short memories are in the United States Congress.
In 2007, 2008, this country was hurled into the worst economic downturn in the modern history of this country because of the greed and the recklessness and the illegal behavior of major financial institutions.
And what's happened since the deregulation, since Dodd/Frank, I should say, is we have seen the largest banks become even larger. What the CBO, Congressional Budget Office, reported just the other day, as you'll recall, is they said this moves us closer to the likelihood of another bank failing. Why would we want to do that? Banks are now making -- in general, they have made in the last two years record- breaking profits.
Yes, we want to help credit unions and small banks, but banks that are worth $250 billion in assets, those are not small banks.
COOPER: Do you think a collapse like we saw in 2008 could happen again?
SANDERS: Of course it could.
COOPER: Are there enough stopgaps in place?
SANDERS: Well that's precisely what they're doing. They're removing some of those stopgaps, and according to the CBO, it will make it more likely that some of these banks may fail leading to a massive tax.
Let me ask you this. I mean I'll ask you this, is all over the country, there are issues on people's minds, you know, whether it's guns, immigration, health care. It amazes me that this is the issue that the Republican leadership has put on the floor of the Senate. And you know why? Last year the financial institutions spent $200 million in lobbying. Over the last 20 or 30 years, they have spent billions of dollars on campaign contributions. This is the corruption.
[20:55:08] What you're seeing is the corruption of the American political system. Big money rules and the needs of ordinary people gets ignored.
COOPER: During the campaign, Hillary Clinton went after you for your position on guns. You come from Vermont, a state where a lot of people hunt. Do you think there is actually going to be movement on some form of gun control?
SANDERS: I would hope to God that there is. And what we're seeing all across this country is people saying, we cannot watch TV anymore and see our children shot down by some lunatic with an assault weapon.
So clearly what we have to do -- and this is not just me talking. This is what the American people want. They want expanded background checks. They want to end the so-called gun show loophole where you could walk in and without any background check, come out with an AK -- with an assault weapon or a semiautomatic weapon. No background check.
They want to end the so-called straw man provision where you can buy guns legally and then sell them to criminals. I happen to believe and I've believed for 30 years that we should ban assault weapons. There's a smaller majority of the American people who support that.
But be that as it may, gun owners, non-gun owners understand that the status quo is untenable. We've got to do something. I hope that we will do it.
And again, one of the things that I am upset about is that this banking bill, bill for big banks is now on the floor of the Senate. We're not talking about guns, we're not talking about the DACA issue. We've got 1.8 million young people eligible for DACA. Some of them may start being deported soon. The American people don't want that. We're not talking about that.
COOPER: Senator Sanders, appreciate your time.
SANDERS: Thank you.
COOPER: Thanks very much.
There's much more ahead including new details about the lawsuit filed on behalf of Stormy Daniels against President Trump. More news on the Mueller investigation and more news. We'll be right back.