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AT THIS HOUR

White House Addresses Cohen Flipping Possible Pardon After Tweetstorm; Trump Unleashes On Twitter Ahead Of Major Diplomatic Week; Trump's First Wife Says He Shouldn't Run Again; Gunman Kills Four At Tennessee Restaurant, Manhunt Intensifies; Trump Says North Korea Agreed To Denuclearize, It Hasn't. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired April 23, 2018 - 11:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[11:00:00]

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you all for joining me today. I'm John Berman. "AT THIS HOUR" with Kate Bolduan starts now.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. President Trump blows up Twitter and White House staffers face the blowback. Two dozen tweets between Friday and Sunday and it is not just the sheer volume that deserves attention, it is who he targets and the questions it all raises this morning that matter as well.

Many of them angrily focused on the president's public battles and the investigation of his personal attorney, Michael Cohen. If Cohen is charged, will he cooperate with investigators and flip on the president?

Is he setting the stage to fire Independent Counsel Robert Mueller, and could the president diffuse a legal threat against Cohen by issuing a pardon even ahead of time? This morning, one White House aide answered to some of this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARC SHORT, WHITE HOUSE DIRECTOR OF LEGISLATIVE AFFAIRS: They said no reason to know what it is that Michael Cohen could possibly flip on.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The mere fact he said I don't think he's going to flip --

SHORT: I don't have any information.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: CNN's Kaitlan Collins is at the White House. Kaitlan, where to begin today, what a weekend it was. What are you hearing from the White House right now?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: It certainly was quite a weekend, especially for our president on Twitter who is saying he does not believe his long-time attorney, Michael Cohen, would flip on him. That language coming after the "New York Times," of course, reported that the president's legal team is resigned to the fact that Michael Cohen, someone with a wife and two kids, certainly could begin to cooperate with those federal officials who are investigating him.

But the press secretary, Sarah Sanders, was on the north lawn this morning and asked if the president has any plans to pardon Michael Cohen, should it come to that. And here's what she had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is the president open to a pardon for Michael Cohen?

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I don't think that we'll talk about hypotheticals that don't exist right now.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COLLINS: Now, of course, that question came because, of course, the president was tweeting this weekend about pardoning Jack Johnson, that former champion boxer who is now dead. And she was asked if the president is sending a message to Michael Cohen by tweeting something like that.

And even more interestingly here, Kate, she said that phone call with Sylvester Stallone about pardoning Jack Johnson happened a month ago, which really raises the question of why was the president tweeting about it this weekend if that call happened just so long ago -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: Because he was watching "Rocky" over the weekend. Great to see you, Kaitlan. Thank you so much.

Let's talk about all of this right now, joining me Seth Waxman, a defense attorney and former federal prosecutor, Jackie Kucinich is here, CNN political analyst and of course, Washington bureau chief for the "Daily Beast," and Mark Preston, CNN senior political analyst. Great to see you, guys.

Seth, first to you. On these two fronts, Cohen and when it comes to Mueller, the White House is basically -- they say there is nothing to see here. That is not necessarily what you gather when you look at president's tweets from over the weekend. How do you square it?

SETH WAXMAN, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Sure, he certainly seems worried about something, so if Mr. Cohen has put that pressure -- put on Mr. Cohen by federal prosecutors to flip, it will be a pressure cooker. Question of whether he flips or not really goes to whether the government has quantifiable significant evidence against Mr. Cohen, documents, e-mails, other kinds of things they can put in front of Mr. Cohen to show that he is in a serious way and had serious legal troubles.

But I will tell you, as a federal prosecutor myself for 13 years, I flipped dozens and dozens of people. And some of the tactics federal prosecutors use, they'll talk about the person's family, how you're going to be away from your kids for five, ten, 15 years.

The other tactic sometimes they'll use is they'll say what if the shoe was on the other foot. If Mr. Trump was facing this kind of pressure, will he stand tall for you in exchange for -- instead of flipping on you, Mr. Cohen.

And inevitably, when I pose that question, to almost every single person I put it to, they look at me and they say, no, that person wouldn't stand tall for me. They start to realize they're out on their own limb, and they got to do for themselves and their family and kind of put Mr. Trump or whoever the targets of the investigation might be secondary.

BOLDUAN: Maybe a window into why the "New York Times" report from over the weekend hurt so much or angered so much. Jackie, 24 tweets between Friday and Sunday. Grievance list was long. What has the president so upset, more upset than usual if you will this weekend.

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I mean, it really does seem to be Michael Cohen and this "New York Times" report that you mentioned that really delved into the relationship between Michael Cohen and the president. Apparently, it was a very abusive verbally abusive relationship.

The president again doesn't respect Cohen. He just -- it is a one-way street when it comes to that relationship. And I think it must have hit a nerve because while other world leaders were mourning the death of Barbara Bush, the president was golfing and raging on Twitter.

In addition to that, apparently this morning, the president is venting about his nominees being held up again and the wall, the wall seems to be a security blanket, the president goes back to it when he needs something else to rage about.

[11:05:11] But, again, it certainly -- it certainly points to the fact that this president isn't happy about, you know, maybe some things he shouldn't be focusing on right now.

BOLDUAN: Mark, to Jackie's point of the -- what do you make of the timing, of the president kind of unleashing these tweets just as the first lady is representing the family at Barbara Bush's funeral? I mean, what gives here?

MARK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I wish I had a formula that we could put in place to try to understand why the president does things.

BOLDUAN: An algorithm, if you will.

PRESTON: And why he says things. Look, we can hypothesize, guess in some ways, there was that unity picture of former presidents being together. Of course, we saw that put out over the weekend. He wasn't part of it.

We also saw that he -- his nominees are under attack right now, not only from Democrats, but from Republicans, Rand Paul is not even a vote on behalf of Mike Pompeo, who he wants to be his secretary of state.

And then the bottom line is, Kate, if you look at the situation Donald Trump is in right now, his shrinking group of advisers that he truly, truly can trust, those that would not flip on him has shrunk to almost nil at this point. I thought Michael Cohen would probably be one of the last men standing and I may be right on that.

BOLDUAN: Well, and Seth, a little bit -- talking about Michael Cohen and what you mentioned up top, in defending Michael Cohen, talking about Twitter again, President Trump said that most people will flip, even if it means lying or making up stories. That's what he wrote on Twitter.

One, is that your experience? Two, does that make you think the president -- does that give you a window into what the president is nervous about?

WAXMAN: Well, yes, I think with regards to lying, that's a big concern for federal prosecutors, you know. Cooperators are by definition criminals, and just because someone is cooperating doesn't mean that they're going to be entirely forth coming.

One of the biggest problems is that people who cooperate minimize their conduct or continue to hold allegiances for people that they're testifying against. In this case, the president potentially.

It is the job of the federal prosecutor to weed all that out, to make sure that the cooperator is truly being 100 percent honest and the best way to do that is to have corroboration, documents, e-mails, bank records.

When you're speaking to the audience, whether it is a jury or in this case Congress or the American people, if there are impeachment proceedings, you'd say, look, you don't have to believe Mr. Cohen because of the words coming out of his mouth only, you get to believe him because look at these documents.

Look at these bank records, that corroborate everything Mr. Cohen says. That is a true struggle and the idea that a potential target like Mr. Trump is saying that someone who is cooperating against me may be forced to lie against me, that is a standard position that people that face the kind of scrutiny or the jeopardy that Mr. Trump may face, that's a tactic that is often taken.

BOLDUAN: Jackie, in this -- this all is happening as the president is set to welcome the French president tonight for his first state visit. I mean, this is just after the allied effort in Syria and this is what the president is talking about over the weekend. Is this the president talking about stepping on his own good news?

KUCINICH: Right. And this is a world leader he actually has a good relationship with right now. And so, they -- you would think they would be highlighting that and they probably will seek to do that today, but, listen, the president has been preoccupied with this for as long as he's been president.

This being the Mueller probe and this being his top advisers being in the cross hairs. So, this is one of the reasons the president has trouble keeping lawyers and hiring lawyers because he doesn't take their advice and he puts the spotlight back on him. So, you're right, you think they would be highlighting the relationship with France, but, you know, maybe -- it is a new week.

BOLDUAN: Speaking of advice, Mark, advice coming from unique place, Ivana Trump giving an interview to the "New York Post." She had an interesting take on her husband's political future, asked about a second term and told the "New York Post," I'll tell you something, I don't think it is necessary. He has a good life, he has everything. Donald is going to be 74, 73 for the next election. Maybe he should just go and play golf and enjoy his fortune."

PRESTON: If I was Donald Trump, I would do that. If I had his money, and I had his life, guess what, I'm not sitting here talking to you, Kate, I'm certainly not --

BOLDUAN: Yes, you would. Even if you did have millions.

PRESTON: What is interesting about that comment and I know we're short on time, he's been hearing that from folks who have been close to him. We even heard Howard Stern, when Donald Trump was running for president, said, why would Donald Trump do this? And to this day, you heard Howard Stern say over and over again, I still never understood why Donald Trump ran for president. He had such a good life and we're hearing that from his ex-wife and, you know what, she's probably right.

[11:10:07] BOLDUAN: Closest circle of advisers now, Michael Cohen, Howard Stern and Ivana Trump. Great to see you, guys. Thank you.

Coming up for us, a community on edge, a killer on the run. Still the massive manhunt for the Waffle House gunman. Are police any closer to tracking him down? We'll go live to Tennessee with the very latest.

Plus, we are also following this, the president claims North Korea has agreed to denuclearize. Well, we're going to get a fact check on that and also talk to an expert who says Kim Jong-un is conning President Trump. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BOLDUAN: This morning, the hunt is on. Dozens of law enforcement officers on the search. Dozens of schools are on alert and an entire community is on edge as a manhunt in Tennessee intensifies. More than 31 hours after a gunman killed four people and wounded several others at a Waffle House in the Nashville area, the suspect is still on the run today.

Police fear he is still armed. One weapon he does not have on him, the AR-15 semi-automatic rifle that police believe he used in the killings.

[11:15:06] That is because the man -- one man in the restaurant James Shaw actually wrestled the gun away and police say likely prevented more carnage because of it. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JAMES SHAW JR., DISARMED WAFFLE HOUSE SHOOTER: It was at that time that I made up my mind. There was no way to lock that door. If it was going to come down to it, he was going to have to work to -- work to kill me. You have to either react or you have to -- or you're going to, you know, fold. And I chose to react because I didn't see any other way of me living and that's all I wanted to do. I just wanted to live.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: Folks are calling him a hero today. CNN's Nick Valencia is live with the very latest from Tennessee. So, Nick, the hunt is still on, the suspect has a really disturbing history. What do we know about him and where the search stands right now?

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, hey, Kate. It's really scary when you listen to James Shaw Jr. and think about the situation that those folks were in at the Waffle House yesterday. If not for the actions of James Shaw Jr. who told a local affiliate that he was just thinking about his 4-year-old little girl the whole time that he was trying to save himself. In the process, no doubt saved a lot of others.

We were supposed to get an update a little while ago from the National Police Department about this manhunt, the dragnet, about 80 police officers from Nashville working with ATF, FBI, as well as other agencies to try to find this individual.

So far, Kate, though, no credible sightings of Travis Reinking, 29 years old, the man accused of walking into this Waffle House behind me early Sunday morning, killing four people, and injuring several others. Two of which are still in the hospital.

Local schools here are also on lockout. Not allowing any visitors or guests into or off the campus because this alleged killer is still on the run -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: And, nick what do we know about the victims? What are we learning about them?

VALENCIA: Well, the four victims, those that perished here early Sunday morning were all in their 20s, being identified as Taurean Sanderlin, Joe Perez, Akilah DaSilva and DeEbony Groves. We also know two others are still in the hospital in stable condition.

You asked me initially, Kate, about the history of this alleged gunman. We know in 2017 that he walked into a restricted area in the White House and told Secret Service that he wanted to meet with President Trump.

He was arrested and because of that, the FBI recommended that he be taken -- his guns be taken away from him in the home state of Illinois. When he moved to Nashville in the fall of 2017, Travis Reinking's father gave those weapons back to Reinking and it is believed that he used that AR-15, one of the weapons seized in this mass shooting that happened early Sunday evening. He's a man with a history of mental health problems, and in 2016, he told police he believed that the pop singer, Taylor Swift, was stalking him. He also is said to have heard voices and believed that people were hacking his phone and looking at his computers. There has been a $2500 reward offered for information leading to his arrest. But right now, at this hour, Kate, he's still on the run.

BOLDUAN: He sure is. Nick, thank you so much. A lot of moving parts here. Let's discuss this right now. Joining me is CNN law enforcement analyst and former assistant director of the U.S. Marshal Service, Art Roderick. Art, thanks for coming in.

ART RODERICK, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Hi, Kate.

BOLDUAN: So, this guy shot up a Waffle House without wearing clothes and he's clearly unbalanced. Are you surprised that law enforcement hasn't picked him up yet?

RODERICK: I am. If he's still alive, I mean, I keep going back to the 2016 report where he told first responders, this was the Taylor Swift report, where he told first responders that he was, you know, suicidal. So is this a product of what has come out of this particular incident, it could very well be.

It wouldn't be unusual for an individual to commit a crime like this and then kill themselves and we have documented history of him being suicidal. Plus, also several different police reports of some sort of paranoia, some definitely mental issues going on here.

We have got a history here and it wouldn't surprise me that at some point after this shooting at the Waffle House that he went ahead and committed suicide. Having said that, there is obviously a very good possibility he's still out there, hunkered down in the woods somewhere.

But I think when you look at this weather issue that has been going on for a couple of days, in Nashville, they had rain all day yesterday, mid-50s, temperature last night, you know, is he able to survive out there with just pants on and shirtless in that type of weather?

BOLDUAN: Right. Can you take us all on the ground right now, what are your former colleagues doing now to find him?

RODERICK: You know, all law enforcement, they have gridded out that area behind the apartment complex, they're looking at abandoned dwellings, old shacks, any place possibly where he could find some kind of shelter.

They're also checking any type of crimes in the area, breaking and entering, carjackings, auto thefts, and they're also trying to pinpoint from the air as well as on the ground any possible location that he could have traveled in via canine dogs, tracking dogs and from the air.

[11:20:06] So, there is a lot going on here. There has been reports issued earlier that people have seen law enforcement in a straight- line walking through backyard areas in this wooded area behind the apartment complex. So, the manhunt is still going on in earnest.

BOLDUAN: And the fact that this many hours afterward, there have been no credible sightings of him, what does that tell you?

RODERICK: It leads me to believe that there is a good possibility that this individual might have killed himself. I keep going back to that, but I think he doesn't -- we haven't seen any history in his background of him being able to be a survivalist type, an individual that could survive in the woods for any extended period of time. So, it is just odd there has been no confirmed sighting of him, since yesterday morning, after he left his apartment complex in that wooded area behind there.

BOLDUAN: Hunt is on in the community, still on edge, waiting for something to give. Art, thank you so much.

BOLDUAN: Thanks, Kate.

BOLDUAN: All right. Coming up for us, is North Korea's Kim Jong-un playing President Trump? A former Republican foreign policy adviser who joins me next says yes. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:25:26]

BOLDUAN: North and South Korea are getting set for a high-stakes meeting later this week. But President Trump is already making demands for his own meeting with the North Korean dictator. President tweeting over the weekend, that we haven't given up anything and they have agreed to denuclearization, site closure and no more testing.

That's not exactly what they agreed to, of course, as we know, North Korea has only said that they'll freeze nuclear missile testing and close down one test site. White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders was asked about all this. She tried to clear things up a bit short time ago. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I would think it looks to this president like it would to every other person across the world, it means that North Korea doesn't have and isn't testing nuclear missiles.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you worried about --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Not dismantling the arsenal?

SANDERS: Again, we're going to get into the details of what this negotiation would look like, but not before it actually takes place.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: All right. Joining me right now, CNN global affairs analyst, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, Max Boot. Great to see you, Max. Thanks for coming in. So, in listening to Sarah Sanders there, do you still -- do you still feel that the president has a different understanding of denuclearization than what Kim Jong-un understands?

MAX BOOT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Yes, absolutely. I mean, there is a real risk that this summit is going to be a car wreck because Trump is setting such unrealistic expectations. He's tweeting that North Korea has already agreed to denuclearization. Wait a second. That's flat out false.

They're not going to denuclearize, Kim Jong-un saw what happened to dictators like Gadhafi or Saddam Hussein, who gave up their weapons of mass destruction. He's not going to follow that example and he's certainly has not agreed to anything like that right now.

BOLDUAN: So, things are in conflict, right? You have president's tweet, what Sarah Sanders saying, and then you have "The Wall Street Journal" reporting from a senior administration official over the weekend, writing this, "When the president says that he will not make the mistakes of the past, that means the U.S. will not be making substantial concessions such as lifting sanctions until North Korea substantially dismantled its nuclear program." If that's the actual marker going into the meeting, will it work?

BOOT: No. What will probably happen is they'll issue some kind of statements, but, remember, there is Donald Trump's foreign policy and the foreign policy of the rest of the administration. So, I don't doubt that his aides are much more wary than he is and understand the traps that are being laid.

But Donald Trump does not read his briefing papers, he does not pay attention to the history or the details, he just thinks that with his overwhelming magnetic personality, get him into a room with Kim Jong- un and he'll make a deal.

And my concern is he will disregard all the caution of his advisers and, you know, say whatever he wants to say in order to conclude a big deal and then they'll have to do cleanup on aisle three essentially.

BOLDUAN: Max, you heard this, what are you -- the last 30 years of listening to advisers hasn't worked. Why not put the man in the room and see what happens?

BOOT: Well, just because we made mistakes in the past doesn't mean we can't make fresh mistakes in the future and that's my concern with Donald Trump. I mean, yes, the mistakes we've made in the past often had to do with being overly credulous and accepting North Korean promises like in 1994, the agreed framework that they were going to denuclearize and they didn't actually do that. My --

BOLDUAN: Promises we're looking at today.

BOOT: Exactly. The problem is that Trump is showing every sign of being just as credulous as previous U.S. presidents or even though his aides I think are more wary because they have a better understanding of North Korea's actual track record. BOLDUAN: You make it very clear in the piece you wrote over the weekend, when it comes -- when Kim says he's -- he doesn't need to test anymore, that they can close down a site, you think he's conning President Trump yet again is what you wrote. Is this -- is in the big progress that President Trump is tweeting about?

BOOT: Yes, this is the big progress, a big nothing because essentially he's basically getting credit for saying he's not going to test nukes or missiles, which he already said before, and he can do that temporarily without discontinuing his nuclear program.

BOLDUAN: If he goes into the meeting, and this -- I feel like the news cycle has gone so quickly that people have forgotten this happened last week when the president said that he would be OK, part of strategy maybe going in if he doesn't like what he's hearing, he's comfortable getting up in the middle of the meeting with Kim Jong-un and leaving.

BOOT: Well, I hope that's right. You also are reading reporting saying that Trump has given up hopes that he alone can solve the Middle East crisis, but now he thinks he can solve the North Korea crisis. So, there's going to be --

BOLDUAN: At least try to focus on one massive crisis that has never been solved.

BOOT: He's got such an exaggerated sense of his own ability to negotiate and to deal on all this kind of stuff that I'm very concerned that he could wind up either A, selling out South Korea or if that doesn't happen, and if the deal blows up, then that would actually strengthen the case of the hardline --

BOLDUAN: If you can't trust -- if you Kim going in, how can you ever trust that there's going to be any progress.