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Trump Organization CFO Granted Immunity to Testify; John McCain to Stop Cancer Treatments. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired August 24, 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] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Jeff Toobin, thank you.

We are staying all over this breaking news. Again, Allen Weisselberg, chief financial officer of the Trump Organization, granted immunity to talk and testify in front of a federal grand jury.

We continue our coverage with "AT THIS HOUR" right now.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

RYAN NOBLES, CNN ANCHOR: Hello. I'm Ryan Nobles, in today for Kate Bolduan.

We begin with breaking news and what could be a disastrous development for President Trump. Sources telling CNN that federal prosecutors have granted immunity to Allen Weisselberg, the longtime CFO for the Trump Organization, and someone who has been with the company for decades.

CNN's Kara Scannell is here to explain.

This information just coming in. Explain to us what you are reporting.

KARA SCANNELL, CNN REPORTER: Ryan, the "Wall Street Journal" is reporting that federal prosecutors investigating Michael Cohen granted Allen Weisselberg, the CFO, chief financial officer, of Trump Organization, immunity to testify in their grand jury. Weisselberg has been with the Trump Organization for decades. He worked for Donald Trump's father. He knows the Trump Organization extremely well. When Trump was elected, he handed off responsibility of the Trump Organization to Weisselberg and Trump's sons. He handles the money. He knows about money flows.

Prosecutors granted him immunity to testify in the Michael Cohen investigation of the campaign finance charges that Cohen pled guilty to this week and said that he had paid off these women at the direction of the president. Weisselberg's testimony here was key to the case it seems. He has been given immunity against prosecution to provide that information on the president and on these payments and these cash flows. It's still not clear what he told investigators, if he had any knowledge of the president's involvement in this or if he was dealing with Michael Cohen.

It's a significant development to give immunity to the CFO of the Trump Organization considering all of the information that he has over decades of working at this organization -- Ryan?

NOBLES: No doubt about that. Key figure in the Trump Organization.

Kara Scannell, thank you for that.

We should point out, this is the "Wall Street Journal" reporting this.

Joining me to talk about this, Chris Cillizza, CNN politics reporter and editor-at-large, and CNN legal analyst, defense attorney and former federal prosecutor, Shan Wu, and Michael Zeldin, CNN legal analyst and a former special assistant to Robert Mueller at the Justice Department.

Let's start with you, Shan. You have represented criminal defendants on many different occasions. How significant is it for someone like Allen Weisselberg, so connected to the Trump Organization, to be granted immunity in a case like this?

SHAN WU, CNN LEGAL ANALAYST: It's very significant. Immunity isn't conferred lightly. You have to be completely all in on the cooperation. They are not going to grant immunity unless they have done a very thorough and comprehensive review of, one, his value, and, two, is credibility. So it says a lot on that. There are a couple kinds of immunity. It's not clear at this point what kind he was given, how broad it might be. If this does sound like it happened a while back, possibly at the time that he testified in the grand jury.

NOBLES: That's right. He was subpoenaed before a grand jury earlier in the year.

Michael Zeldin, could this mean that his cooperation continues? Is his contribution to the Justice Department over with?

MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: That's the key question. We don't know. We're getting the reporting right now that he was granted immunity. We don't know whether that means they put him in the grand jury in preparation for the Cohen plea, and it's one and done and there's nothing really to worry about here. If it means though that he is continuing to work with the southern district on forward looking things related to the Trump Organization, then it's not a good portend for the Trump Organization. We just don't know how he was used. It makes sense in both respects. If he was there along with Cohen and along with the others, Pecker, who want to explain the full parameters of the payments to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal and that's all wrapped up nicely, good. If it means something further, really bad for Trump. The financial dealings of the Trump Organization have not really seen a lot of scrutiny, at least publicly yet. If this is the beginning of that, that's not a good sign.

NOBLES: Chris, there are few people that know about the Trump Organization better than Allen Weisselberg. He worked for Mr. Trump's father before Mr. Trump took control of the organization. This is a guy that knows a lot about Donald Trump.

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS REPORTER & CNN EDITOR-AT-LARGE: Look, if you had to name the people whose last name isn't Trump who are the closest to Donald Trump, Allen Weisselberg is the first person on that list. Honestly, is the number-two person is probably Michael Cohen. These are people who were entrusted with the most delicate pieces of Donald Trump's world. Not just his business dealings, but we know in Cohen's case, the payoff of two women making allegations about affairs with Weisselberg has handled the financial transactions, not just of the Trump Organization, of Donald Trump. That's to Michael's point. If this is an immunity going forward to help going forward, it's beyond problematic.

[11:05:35] NOBLES: OK. Chris, I'm sorry. I do have to cut you off. We do have to pause for some breaking news.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

NOBLES: We turn to breaking news. It's a grim update on the failing health of U.S. Senator John McCain. The one-time Republican nominee for president has been battling an aggressive form of brain cancer. We now have an update from his family.

CNN's Sunlen Serfaty is on Capitol Hill.

Sunlen, what can you tell us about the prognosis for Senator McCain?

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSONAL CORRESPONDENT: Some grim news coming this morning from the family of Senator John McCain. They just came out with a lengthy statement, notably saying the Senator has chosen to discontinue medical treatment. He will no longer receive medical treatment. He has been receiving it for that aggressive form of brain cancer he has been dealing with in a public way since last summer, since last July when he was formally diagnosed with brain cancer.

I want to read you the statement that came out from his family saying, quote, "Last summer, Senator John McCain shared with Americans the news, our family already knew, he had been diagnosed with an aggressive cancer. The prognosis was serious. In the year since, John has surpassed expectations for his survival. The progress of the disease and the advance of age render their verdict. With his usual strength of will, he has chosen to discontinue medical treatment. Our family is grateful for the support and kindness of his caregivers over the last year and the outpouring of concern and affection from John's friends and associates and the thousands of people who are keeping them in their prayers, god bless. Thank you all."

Certainly, a significant statement about the future of John McCain, the future of his health. Notable, they note not only the aggressive form of cancer that he is suffering with but, of course, his age. That's playing in. He has not been up here on Capitol Hill for quite some time. He is, of course, while he is receiving treatment, at his home in Arizona, chimed in from the sidelines, potentially sometimes writing tweets. His office, of course sending out statements to all the goings on. But it has not been some time which we have been seeing up here in the halls of Congress, casting the vote one of his last votes that was decisive when he notably gave the thumbs down on the Senate floor, casting the fate of that bill, certainly one of his last potential legacies up here on Capitol Hill. For the moment, many folks up here likely sending their support and

love during, of course, what is an incredibly hard time for the family at this moment.

NOBLES: No doubt.

Sunlen Serfaty, thank you for that breaking news that Senator John McCain discontinuing treatment for an aggressive form of brain cancer.

Let's bring in CNN's Dana Bash, who covered Senator McCain for some time. She has been tracking his prognosis.

Dana, your initial reaction to this news that Senator McCain will no longer be receiving cancer treatment.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (via telephone: Ryan, this is a moment everybody knew would come. But it doesn't make it any easier. John McCain, his M.O. has been to be the fighter, and to not give up. This is -- everybody who has had a family member or friend or known who have had cancer, especially this kind of brain cancer that John McCain has, knows that this is just one that you can't beat. Even John McCain has known that. He has been home. His happy place, his cabin for quite some time. He has been with his family. He has been looking out at the birds and the creek that runs through that for months and months. Trying as much as he can to take in his -- what he knew, knows are his last months of life. The fact that he has chosen to terminate treatment tells you a lot about how aggressive this is. The John McCain we have known and loved and covered for so long -- when I say love, I mean people who have covered him for a long time and have had his wrath and his jokes and all of the above and even those who are his political enemies have come to love him and love him for this reason. But he doesn't give up.

[11:10:13] NOBLES: You mention the fact that he made this decision to discontinue treatment says a lot about what the future has in store for Senator McCain. A few months ago, he was still patrolling the halls of Capitol Hill with that vigor he has had throughout his career. He and his family have been coy about exactly what his prognosis was. They promised he was working to get back to his job here on Capitol Hill. What does it say from your perspective about how engaged he has been about the big issues of the day? He may not be here in president but his presence has been large.

BASH: No question. He has weighed in, obviously, with the help of staff and his family around on him on big issues and has made an impact even from afar. It's not the same and has not been the same without John McCain to put it bluntly in the face of people. That is how he has been so successful as a politician, as a length la legislator. The fact that he is so aggressive with what he believes. It has been hard with him home. My understanding is that at least until somewhat recently, he was given a schedule every day as Senators get, as you know covering Congress. They get a schedule of what they are doing every day. He had a schedule to keep him in the groove of everyday life. But it got harder and harder as he got sicker and sicker. Look, not only is the disease something that is beyond horrible, the treatment for the disease is also something that always takes a toll. He had really aggressive treatment for a while. As the statement from his family says, at his age and given the disease he has, that matters.

NOBLES: Dana Bash, thank you for weighing in. Stick close. We will come back to you in a moment.

Let's go to CNN political director, David Chalian, who covered Senator McCain for a while.

David, your reaction to this news about the next stage of John McCain's battle with cancer?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Well, you know, inevitable moment in this terrible disease that we all wish was never going to happen and yet we all knew that we would get some indication that this is the stage we would be at, at some point. It's a day you never sort of want to experience, Ryan, of course. In reading his family's statement and in watching how his family has sort of been dealing with the last year, it is hard not to think in this time about what a missing voice John McCain's voice has been in this last year. I heard Sunlen talk about that very dramatic summer 2017 health care vote where he put his thumbs down and the president has relentlessly been going on him for the better part of the year. His daughter, his wife needing to respond to that while they are battling this disease with him and going through his medical care. But it's in moments like that where you think, my god, what would the political conversation in this town have been like for last year if indeed John McCain's voice was a part of it? Time and again, somebody who ran his presidential campaign in 2008 under the slogan of country first and having an entire sort of life body of work supporting that slogan, what he would have been speaking to over the course of the last year, it is impossible not to wonder. On a day like this where you read this statement, your heart immediately goes to his family that he has come to this decision to no longer receive medical care.

NOBLES: To your point, even though we haven't necessarily heard John McCain's voice, he has made it known through statements, still weighing in on some of the biggest issues of the day, despite battling this aggressive form of cancer, not left the political arena.

David Chalian, thank you.

Now I want to read for you a tweet from Meghan McCain, his daughter, who has been public about her father's struggles with cancer. She has been forced to be a spokesperson on behalf of John McCain when he has been attacked by President Trump and others. "My family is deeply appreciative of all the love and generosity you have shown us during this past year. Thank you for all your continued support and prayers. We could not have made it this far without you. You have given us the strength to carry on."

Now we will go to Wolf Blitzer, a man who covered John McCain for a very extensive part of his career.

Wolf, you have obviously probably knew that this news was coming at some point. It probably still has to come as a shock to hear someone like John McCain say he is stepping back from a fight like this.

[11:15:35] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, because he has been a fighter his whole life. I have known him for at least 30 years. Have interviewed him so many times, spent a lot of quality time with him over the years. Simply, a great American, a great patriot, a wonderful politician. Someone who is clearly a conservative Republican but always ready to work with Democrats on specific issues, especially national security issues. Someone who is willing to spend an enormous amount of time learning about all of these issues. I watched him up close during many very sensitive moments, especially when he was running for president of the United States. He was always a gentleman. He was a maverick. He was someone who didn't necessarily always go along with the establishment. But he was someone who was so committed to doing the right thing for our country that his voice this past year occasionally, he would tweet, he would issue a statement, he would say something. But it was so, so missed here in Washington. As you know, he is the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. He believes in the military, the U.S. military. He was a POW for more than five years. It's a sad moment. I think we can all rejoice in remembering those wonderful times all of us had covering him, knowing him and seeing him in action.

NOBLES: No doubt about that. Of course, the last Defense Authorization Bill just passed by Congress has Senator John McCain's name attached to it.

Wolf Blitzer, thank you for your perspective. We appreciate it.

Coming up, our other breaking news. A source telling CNN that federal prosecutors have now granted immunity --

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

NOBLES: -- to Allen Weisselberg, the longtime chief financial officer of the Trump Organization, and someone who has been with the company for decades. More on this breaking news and much more.

Stay here. You are watching CNN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:21:45] NOBLES: Breaking news. A source telling CNN that federal prosecutors have granted immunity to Allen Weisselberg, the longtime chief financial officer for the Trump Organization, and someone who has been with the company for decades.

CNN's Kara Scannell has the latest. OK, actually, we are going to go to our panel now and we will talk about this breaking news. Joining me, an astute group of individuals who know about this case, CNN legal analyst, defense attorney and former federal prosecutor, Shan Wu, NPR White House correspondent, Ayesha Rascoe, and Michael Zeldin, CNN legal analyst and former special assistant to Robert Mueller at the Justice Department.

We got into this before, Michael, when we had the breaking news about Senator McCain, but let's recap this. What does it mean for someone in the role of Allen Weisselberg, who has immense knowledge of the Trump Organization and President Trump himself, to cut an immunity deal like this?

ZELDIN: What's most important is for us to learn when the immunity deal was offered and as to what it pertained. If it was offered before the Cohen plea and it was only to gather the information necessary to secure Cohen's plea and perspective cooperation, then it's pretty ring fenced. If it was more recently granted or it's ongoing and it relates to the broader Trump Organization, its financial dealings and the Trump foundation under inquiry, which is a bigger deal. So timing and purpose. We just don't know where it's going to go.

NOBLES: There's a chance, Shan, that his cooperation with the federal government is over with. With a specific goal of this Michael Cohen indict money ament and conviction.

WU: When you decide to cooperation, it's never really over. They can always come back to you. Michael is right, the timing is critical. It sounds like both Pecker as well as Weisselberg --

NOBLES: David Pecker, the head of AMI, the "National Enquirer's" publisher.

WU: Right. It sounds like it's likely that those arrangements were done quite a while earlier. That may have caused Cohen to have to plea because the walls closed in on him. Game of musical chairs. He was the last guy left standing. In terms of the continuing information, once you go down this road of cooperating, you have to keep going with it. For all we know, they have gotten other information that hasn't been public yet.

NOBLES: Ayesha, let's go over this. First, Michael Cohen known as the president's fixer. One of the most loyal deputies of President Trump. He flips. David Pecker, "National Enquirer," he has taken an immunity deal, presumably also to flip. Now Allen Weisselberg, who is mentioned on that secret tape that Michael Cohen took of President Trump talking about the payments. What must be going through the mind of President Trump right now to see three of these people who he thought were loyal to him now turning and cooperating with the government?

[11:24:48] AYESHA RASCOE, NPR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I certainly can't guess what's in President Trump's mind. He can't be happy to have all of these people who he was very close with -- these were very close associates and people that worked for him for years. To have this happen, he can't be happy with it. I always think when things like this happen, it's almost -- there's the question of what actually took place and then there's, what is going to be President Trump's response? Because that can be very important as well. It might not -- the significance of Weisselberg cooperating, that's one thing. But the question is, how does President Trump response? Does he do anything extreme? Does he do things that could make things worse?

NOBLES: His tact, up until this point, has been to try and -- to essentially rewrite history with some of the relationships. He suggested Paul Manafort was not involved in the campaign when he served as campaign chairman. Michael Cohen was a junior lawyer on his staff and never dealt with big deals. Is it more difficult for him, Ayesha, to continue to distance himself from these people that were in his orbit?

RASCOE: When you have the CFO -- he worked for the Trump Organization for decades. It's going to be hard to disassociate himself from them.

NOBLES: Michael, I wonder how much of this for President Trump is a political argument versus a legal argument. It seems less clear the special counsel will not try to indict a sitting president. Does this come back to whether the Congress can get the support of the American people to move forward with something as dramatic as impeachment?

ZELDIN: We have a couple of things going on. We have a state prosecution or a state of New York investigation of the Trump foundation and related matters. We have the southern district of New York investigating Cohen. Then we have Mueller investigating the collusion and related matters. Only Mueller has an obligation to file a report on his findings with the deputy attorney general. It's a confidential report. But the deputy attorney general can release it. That's really the political aspect of this. The southern district of New York and the New York state prosecutors, they're going to indict or not indict. They're not going to issue any report. As things drip out, as more people get implicated in criminal behavior, then perhaps it's an inflection point with the Trump supporters. We saw on reporting earlier that they said -- these supporters said if he begins pardoning people, that might change our point of view. If we see evidence of collusion, that may change our point of view. If we see additional indictments of people who surround Trump, that may change our point of view. That's how it plays out in some respects politically, in my estimation.

NOBLES: We have to go.

Michael Zeldin, Ayesha Rascoe, Shan Wu, thank you for your expertise.

Back to our other big breaking news from today. U.S. Senator John McCain, the one-time Republican nominee for president, has been battling an aggressive form of brain cancer. And now the family says he is discontinuing treatment.

Cindy McCain tweeting, "I love my husband with all my heart. God bless everyone who cared for my husband along this journey."

Joining us now, CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta for more on the next stage for Senator McCain.

Sanjay, just essentially from a medical perspective, explain what this means for Senator McCain that he decided to forgo further treatment for his aggressive form of brain cancer.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Well, it's obviously -- it's tough news. We know that he has been dealing with this since last summer, since July of last year. He had an operation at that time. He has been undergoing therapy. Typically, that's chemotherapy and radiation. It can be tough. It can be very hard to go through this therapy. The goal is to try and combat the cancer cells in the brain. What it sounds like has happened is that at some point -- always you are making a risk/benefit Analysis. How much benefit am I getting for this given the toll that this therapy is taking on my body? It sounds like where he says, the risk is no longer outweighing the benefit. It's tough. It's a tough thing, this type of tumor, as you know, as a lot of people who have been following Senator McCain's story know, the average survival is 14 months. Right now we had 13 months since he was diagnosed.

NOBLES: We saw Vice President Biden's son, Beau Biden, go through it. He was a younger man. The family said the age was part of the decision-making process. If you can, explain -- you touched on it a little bit -- how vigorous the treatment is and how difficult it is on the body.

[11:29:40] GUPTA: This type of tumor is a Glioblastoma. Some people refer to it as a GDM. It's an aggressive form of brain cancer. It's a cancer that forms within the brain itself as opposed to spreading from somewhere else in the body to the brain. The type of treatment typically, as was the case with Senator McCain, he had an operation first to remove this, what --