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Interview With Michael Cohen; Trump Organization Indicted. Aired 3-3:30p ET
Aired July 1, 2021 - 15:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: Kara Scannell, thank you very much for all of that breaking news and for guiding us through it.
Let's discuss all this with Donald Trump's former personal attorney Michael Cohen, who has been listening in to all of these developments.
Michael, great to see you.
MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER ATTORNEY/FIXER FOR DONALD TRUMP: Good to see you.
CAMEROTA: Your reaction to what you have heard in this indictment?
COHEN: There's nothing that has been said that I couldn't have scripted out in advance of the Trump Organization's counsel, whether it was Alan Futerfas or the other attorney.
Obviously, what else can Donald say? What else can Allen Weisselberg say? It's political. It's political. He's been saying this witch-hunt sort of language since the very first day that he took office. No one is allowed to investigate Donald, unless Donald tells you he's allowed to be investigated.
And that's the problem here. So, look, everybody has to just take a step back, read through the indictment as it's written, instead of skimming through it in order to find pieces. What you're going to find is that Allen Weisselberg is in substantially greater jeopardy than he was last night.
You know, Alisyn, I have said this before. And I want to say it to you as well. There's a big difference between when you're under investigation and when you're under indictment. The next step for Allen Weisselberg, and possibly his children, is prison.
And we already saw the numbers, as by your group before, of seven years for each of the 15 counts. That's 105 years that the man is looking -- now, nobody believes that he's going to get 105 years, but even three, like I was charged with, it's a long time. And that feeling of the handcuffs and/or shackles or however else that they paraded him through, that's real. And he knows the reality now a lot greater than he did yesterday.
CAMEROTA: And so, Michael, I mean, because you have been in this very position in terms of being indicted and knowing the difference between an investigation and an indictment, what we have learned, at least from what has leaked out and media reports, is that Allen Weisselberg was not interested in cooperating up until now.
Do you think that, today, something changes?
COHEN: Yes, I mean, he would be crazy not to because, right now, his life is on the line. He's 74 years old. He gets three years, five years, whatever it is, that's real time when you're in your golden years.
He doesn't want to be away from his wife and his sons and his grandchildren. He wants to be with his family. He wants to go on down to Boynton Beach and enjoy his golden years of his life, not hanging out with a bunch of other inmates, whether it's in an Otisville-type scenario -- of course, that's federal -- or wherever they're going to send him.
It's not a joke at this point in time. And here's the thing. I think it was what -- it was one of the members of your panel -- I forget who it was -- made a statement which is very true. What you have right now is Allen Weisselberg's head on the chopping block.
And do you think that Donald Trump will protect him? Well, if Allen looks back at what happened to me, the answer is an emphatic no. He's going to pay the legal bills up until he gets tired of paying the legal bills, because it's too much money. Why am I paying for everybody's money? Why am I paying for everybody's bills?
And then he's going to cut him off. It's no different than what he did to me. First, they bring you in, they hug you, they tell you everything's going to be fine. And then, when things really get hot, that's when Donald runs.
And the beauty of Donald doing that for him is, he's going to say, well, that's why I paid my CFO. That's why I paid the accounting firm.
I also want to just say to you, Allen Weisselberg is not the keystone. He is not the keystone to this investigation.
Michael, I want to ask you about something that I think you have some information about personally. In the indictment, there are some details about the tuition, OK, that went for Allen Weisselberg's I think grandchildren.
So there is a $359,000 check to Columbia Grammar School that Weisselberg's grandchildren went to that it looks like were, according to this indictment, signed by Donald Trump himself. Can you -- can you -- do have any information about that?
COHEN: Of course.
What's the exact question that you want? Why is it signed by Donald? How many times on all of these shows do I have to say there is nothing that happened at the Trump Organization that did not go to Donald, whether it was the purchasing of paper clips or the payment of Allen Weisselberg's grandchildren's tuition.
Every single thing went on Donald's debt (AUDIO GAP)
CAMEROTA: Hold on. Just making sure I didn't lose you. Do you hear me? Can you hear me, Michael? Michael?
OK. Hold on. OK, we're going to get Michael back in a second.
But, right now, we want to bring in Elie.
Elie, tell me everything. I know you have been coming through the 24- page indictment. Tell us everything that you have gleaned.
ELIE HONIG, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I'm speed-reading.
One thing that jumps out to me, Alisyn, is there are definitely others involved. I say involved. Whether they will be charged is a separate question. Here's a couple of indicators of that in the indictment. The indictment talks about employees, plural, who were paid through this scheme.
The indictment talks about how one of the largest, meaning there's others, beneficiaries was Allen Weisselberg. The indictment talks about how Allen Weisselberg and others directed this scheme.
I found that really important. Allen Weisselberg and others -- who are those others? -- directed this scheme. That Trump Organization personnel, including Allen Weisselberg -- you get the point.
One thing that jumped out at me on the indictment in particular at page 10, the allegation is that the scheme to defraud tax authorities in relation to compensation paid to the Trump Organization executives and employees extended to persons other than Weisselberg.
Who are these people? That's the big question. Who else is involved? Who else is potentially on the hook for this?
CAMEROTA: OK, stand by, panel, if you would, because we have Michael Cohen back with us, I believe.
So, Michael Cohen, of course, Donald Trump's longtime personal attorney.
So, Michael, I mean, basically, what I'm alluding to with this is that I know that you have sat many times with prosecutors and given them what you know now. And so have you been able to point them to any specific fraudulent transaction that you can tie to Donald Trump that you think is now connected here?
COHEN: Right, so let me once again say that I won't discuss my conversations with the district attorney out of respect for the investigation.
All I can say is, yes, from -- there are a multitude of documents that are in the possession of prosecutors that tie Donald Trump to everything, because everything went through Donald. I don't know how many more times I could possibly say the same thing.
Every single thing, whether it was the acquisition of paper clips, lightbulbs, furniture, mattresses, you name it, right, Allen Weisselberg's kids payments, rent, everything, would have a Donald signature on it or his initial. And that included -- and there are other people at the Trump Organization who additionally received the same sort of benefits that Allen Weisselberg that did, including like the chief operating officer, Matthew Calamari.
There are so many people that received these types of benefits. The question is, how did they treat it on their taxes? And why is it that it was done and how is it that it was done and booked by the Trump Organization?
Now, one of the things before I lost you in terms of sound that I was saying, what Donald will do, since he doesn't have e-mails, is he's going to claim that this is everybody else's fault. That's part of the Donald strategy. That's his playbook.
COHEN: It's not me. It's Michael Cohen. It's not me. It's Allen Weisselberg. It's not me. It's Matthew Calamari.
COHEN: But then he's going to say, it's not me. It's the accounting firm.
So do you think that there's not going to be other people that are going to step up to the plate and provide all of the additional testimony that corroborates the documentary evidence that they already have?
CAMEROTA: Well, I don't know, Michael, because here's what's interesting, is that though everything you have said rings true, in the past, for everything that has come up, whatever allegations there have been, somehow, Donald Trump has skirted accountability, as you well know from your life. You went to prison. He didn't.
And so why do you think this time is going to be any different?
COHEN: Well, you know the expression, right, the cat has nine lives?
I think his nine lives have expired, because the documentary evidence that are in -- that's the hands of the prosecutors is so significant, and it's so spot on, that there's no way anybody's getting out of it.
And, again, neither Allen Weisselberg or Calamari or anybody are the keystone here, because the documents speak for themselves. And there are more than enough people that are capable in testifying to what went on, myself included.
CAMEROTA: Michael, I have -- OK, I have another question for you.
Because you have lived through this, what is Donald Trump saying to Allen Weisselberg right now? What message is he sending to him? And if they are still speaking -- I mean, I know that you were still speaking to him and in contact until the point where your apartment and office were raided, and then you would get messages through his lawyers.
So what sorts of messages are coming in to Allen Weisselberg now?
COHEN: Allen, listen, I know what you're going through. This is terrible. It's part of the witch-hunt. You know it. I know it. Stay the course. Stay strong. I have your back. Don't worry about the finances. We're going to take care of all of it.
We're going to take care of your attorneys. Do not worry, right? This is all nonsense. It's all the politicization of the Trump Organization and me. They have been fighting for years. You know that. We have been through much bigger wars. Just stay strong with me. And I promise you I have your back.
CAMEROTA: That sounds pretty persuasive.
COHEN: It sure does. But guess what? It's not true, because nothing that Donald Trump says is true.
And Allen will be the fall guy, just as I was the fall guy. And listening to these attorneys say, this has never happened, it's unprecedented, it's not true. I went to prison in part for hush money payments. I went because of a campaign finance violation.
So, if you really think that, just because it's Allen Weisselberg and Donald Trump once again saying something, that that's going to be come the reality, he could say it all he wants. It's not the reality.
CAMEROTA: Michael, I'm just still reading through this indictment.
But one thing that I want to ask you about is, the indictment alleges that the Trump Organization destroyed business records in September of 2016. Do you know what that's in reference to?
COHEN: I -- again, this is all part of the DA's prosecution of both the Trump Organization, Weisselberg and others. So I don't want to get into it.
But, obviously, they're not going to make a statement like that unless that they have the information in order to back it up. Remember, most of the stuff that was documents with the Trump Organization come in only two forms. It's either electronic or it's on paper.
That's just the way that the company ran. And so, if there's information that's missing from the hard drive, rest assured, Quantico knows how to bring that information back. We have seen that before. And as it relates to paper, that's only one side.
If I'm sending you an e-mail, OK, if I get rid of it, that doesn't mean that yours is gone. So they will figure out how to get, if not that they already have it, the information that they're looking for, or they're going to have it as a corroborating witness.
CAMEROTA: Michael, as you probably heard Elie Honig just outline from the indictment, there were other people mentioned, other employees, that it sounded like it goes beyond Allen Weisselberg.
You think this is bigger than Allen Weisselberg. Who do you think is next to be indicted?
COHEN: Well, I think that Matthew Calamari is on the chopping block as well.
CAMEROTA: The COO?
COHEN: He received some type of perks -- the COO -- the same kind of perks and benefits that Allen Weisselberg received.
On top of that, I also believe that there are other members of the Trump Organization, including the children, who are next to come up onto these indictments.
CAMEROTA: You don't mean Allen Weisselberg's children. You mean Donald Trump's. You mean Eric and Don Jr. and Ivanka?
CAMEROTA: And what do you think they would be indicted for?
COHEN: Well, again, their participation in different aspects of the company and how they ended up booking things for tax purposes, the benefits that they took and received.
And, again, I don't want people to think that this case is about Allen Weisselberg and an apartment and a free car and so on. It is substantially larger in scope than just that aspect. That is but the tip. It's the tip of the iceberg.
And there's so much more that's going to be coming. So, again, to take this indictment -- I think Elie Honig said it best before, which is that there are different ways that different prosecutors run their cases.
In this specific case, they're doing it this way. They could have done a sweeping indictment against 10, 12, 15 people, if they really wanted. But they're not. They're doing it in a methodical way. And despite the fact that, as a society now, we like our information immediate, and we want things to be done on the spot, that's not realistic in this specific case, because you are going after--
CAMEROTA: But what more do you think -- I mean, but if this is the tip of the iceberg, what's the iceberg? What more is about to drop?
COHEN: Well, the ultimate, which is what they're really looking to do. The target of this investigation is not Allen Weisselberg. Of course, it's the CEO of the Trump Organization, Donald Trump himself.
CAMEROTA: Michael Cohen, we really appreciate you sharing your particular unique insights into the Trump Organization, as well as all of this investigation with us. Great to talk to you.
COHEN: Thanks, Alisyn.
CAMEROTA: Thank you.
COHEN: It brings back some pretty bad memories. I will tell you that.
CAMEROTA: I bet it does.
COHEN: Like I was saying to you early on, for Allen Weisselberg, the memories don't go away. So you may want to smarten up and think about providing the information that they already have and corroborating it.
If not will, we will -- I'm sure we will talk about it in 20 years from now.
CAMEROTA: We will see if he takes your advice.
Michael Cohen, thank you very much.
COHEN: Be well, Alisyn.
CAMEROTA: You too.
OK, so, Kara Scannell is also joining us now. She has more new details.
So, tell us more about what's happened in court, what you're learning now.
KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Alisyn.
While we were inside just a short while ago, after the proceedings ended, they were discussing what would happen next. And so we actually saw prosecutors hand and a electronic storage device over to a lawyer for the Trump Organization and a separate electronic storage device over to the lawyers for Allen Weisselberg.
That was part of the discovery that they said that they had, including bank records, tax records, all of that material that they're handing over to the defense. We also saw as part of Allen Weisselberg's release, there is no bail in New York for someone who is charged with like the crimes that he was charged with.
But they did -- prosecutors did ask for his passport to be turned over because they said he's a flight risk. He is someone who has a lot of means, who works for a company with properties all over the globe, and who has taken many trips on private planes, they noted.
So we actually saw Allen Weisselberg's attorney hand his passport over to authorities right there in court. So he's released on bail. He's free to go, but he did have to surrender his passport. And that -- we saw that take place in court.
The judge also put a protective order over the evidence, so that the lawyers would not release any of it, so people wouldn't talk about it publicly. And they set a date where the next time we will be back in court for a status conference is September 20 -- Alisyn.
I see Elie and me writing that date down right now. That sounds important. Kara, thank you very much.
Let's bring back Elie Honig, Tristan Snell, Jennifer Rodgers, and Jamie Gangel.
And I know you have all been listening to everything that has unfolded in the past hour or so.
Elie, you have just come through this 24-page indictment? What do we need to know?
HONIG: Yes, so, beyond the fact that this indictment makes clear that there are others involved, we don't know who they are. And, importantly, we don't know if prosecutors have enough to indict those people.
Another thing that's really important is the falsification of records. There's an allegation of here that, in September of 2016, Allen Weisselberg directed a staff member to remove the notations -- quote -- "per Allen Weisselberg," from the entries in Donald Trump's detailed general ledger. That's really important.
That's very powerful evidence for prosecutors, because it shows Allen Weisselberg, at a minimum, knew that what he was doing was wrong. You would not tell somebody, hey, take my name off that document unless you knew it was wrong. That's what we call intent.
That tells me prosecutors have a very strong case against Allen Weisselberg.
CAMEROTA: Tristan, you have been listening along as well. You have a lot of experience with this, having sued Trump University.
From what you heard from Michael Cohen, who has been interviewed by prosecutors, I think eight or nine times, and he is convinced that there's more there there, what is your assessment?
TRISTAN SNELL, FORMER NEW YORK ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL: I think the key here is, we need to listen to Michael Cohen when he says that Weisselberg is not the keystone to this case, because everybody's been speculating, is Weisselberg going to flip? If he doesn't, is there a case to be made against Trump?
Listen to Cohen on this, and he says the keystone is not Allen Weisselberg. He says the keystone is the documents. Now, that's a lot less sexy. Documents don't flip. Documents don't have human cares regarding being handcuffed.
But, basically, what Cohen is saying is, the documents are there. And I think that what you were just talking about shows how this could work.
If we see that there was a document once that -- a ledger, a spreadsheet, something like that, that had a certain set of numbers, and then maybe there were notations in that document, and then there's another version of that document, or there's testimony or an e-mail or something like that says, hey, take that out, or there's another version of the document in which that notation has been removed or the numbers have been changed, you have got your intent right there.
That didn't happen accidentally. You didn't make a math mistake. You didn't hit the wrong button on Microsoft Excel. You meant to do that. And regardless of whether or not you have a cooperating witness, those documents are there. So we may not need Allen Weisselberg's cooperation in order to make a case here. It may just be that there's been this mountain of documents.
Prosecutors finally got their hands on them after having to go to the Supreme Court to get them. And that may be the case right there. Obviously, if you get Weisselberg to cooperate, that makes the prosecutors' job a lot easier. Certainly, they want to get that. But that's a shortcut.
You can -- if you can make the case for the documents, it's the longer road, and it's more boring, to some degree, to talk about because we're not talking about a person. We're talking about a bunch of files. But the case may well be there. And today may have given us a hint of that.
CAMEROTA: Jamie, we are just hearing from the former President Donald Trump about all this. We have a statement from him.
It says -- quote -- "The political witch-hunt by the radical left Democrats, with New York now taking over the assignment, continues. It is dividing our country like never before!"
This dovetails with what his -- the Trump Organization's attorneys were saying. We just heard them at the microphone basically saying that this is the attorney general, Letitia James, doing this because she personally promised that she was going to get Donald Trump and that she doesn't like his politics.
JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: So, let's be clear. Those lawyers, when they were at the microphone, that was for an audience of one, and that was Donald Trump.
For context, today is a bad day for Donald Trump. We heard Michael Cohen say this. The Trump Organization is Donald Trump. And these prosecutors did not bring this case lightly. They don't want to have this case and then not make it and go all the way.
I think the other thing that Michael Cohen mentioned that's worth repeating is that the Trump Organization is Donald Trump, and Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump and Ivanka Trump. That is a tremendous problem for the entire family.
And, finally, I just think we need to point out that there were two things that were bad for Donald Trump today. One was this indictment, which, as Elie has been going through, is very lengthy, very detailed. But the other is, to bring it back to Washington, Nancy Pelosi announced the select committee on January 6 today.
And Liz Cheney, a very conservative Republican, agreed to be on that committee. These two things are going to be happening at the same time, no matter how many exclamation points Donald Trump wants to make in these statements.
CAMEROTA: Jen Rodgers, now that you have heard all the details or what we have been able to consume from the indictment and from inside the courtroom, is this what you were expecting today?
JENNIFER RODGERS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, it's a little more than I was expecting, in the sense that they did charge more crimes than I was expecting.
And hearing from Michael Cohen leads me to believe, more than I did before, I should say, that they are still looking to make a bigger, broader case against more people. I mean, one interesting thing from the indictment is, a lot of people were wondering, why now? Why are they bringing this now? The pressure on Allen Weisselberg is one reason.
But, also, it does appear now to be true that prosecutors were running up against statute of limitations issues. A lot of this conduct goes up to 2016, five years ago. So they need to get this case going. They needed to charge this case in order to not have a statute of limitations problem later.
Now they have done that. They have gotten in the door of the courthouse with these Trump Org charges, the Allen Weisselberg charges. They now have breathing space to add more charges down the road into the same indictment without having to worry about that statute of limitations.
CAMEROTA: Elie, I want to get your final thoughts. Michael Cohen thought that you were spot on with your previous
analysis. So, now that you have read through this, what do you think?
HONIG: I'm not quite sure what to make that comment from Michael Cohen.
We do have to be careful about one thing, though. Prosecutors have a very high burden of proof. And it's very specific. It's not enough to say, of course the boss knew. It's not enough to say, look, we have piles and piles of documents. You need to show that the person you're charging had specific intent to break the law.
CAMEROTA: Well, OK, let me just interrupt you right there. I mean, we just told you, in the indictment, it said that Donald Trump had signed one of the checks for the tuition for Allen Weisselberg's grandchildren.
If that's not reflected on any tax document, isn't that -- doesn't that tie Donald Trump to it or not?
HONIG: Perfect example. That's actually exactly where I was going.
So, what that proves is Donald Trump knew they were paying tuition to benefit Allen Weisselberg or his family. But that's not enough. You have to prove also that he knew they weren't reporting it as tax, because that's the tax evasion.
So did Donald Trump know they were paying tuition, know they were paying cars, know they were paying rent? Maybe. That's not a crime to pay people fringe benefits. The crime is not reporting it. And his defense will be, where's your proof that I knew or directed that we're not reporting this?
So that's what's missing here.
CAMEROTA: That's interesting, Elie, because, if Allen Weisselberg is the CFO, he should have been reporting it.
And does that give Donald Trump cover to say, that's why I hired the guy, he's my CFO, he does our taxes?
This is what we see all the time. Any time you're trying to get into a closed organization, the boss always has that cover, whether it's a corporation, a large one, or a small one like the Trump Organization, a mafia family, like Jennifer and I used to prosecute, any kind of ring.
The boss always has the most insulation. It's hardest to get to the boss. He has the easiest way to say, that's not me. I didn't deal with that. I have people for that. I didn't know. I didn't direct it.
That's going to be a challenge here. CAMEROTA: I mean, Jennifer, we -- yes, Jen, we only have a few
But Michael Cohen felt that this time was going to be different and that this time they were going to be able to tie Donald Trump to that. I don't know if you have any thoughts, in 10 seconds.
RODGERS: I mean, we will have to see.
They have a lot of documents. I am heartened, as Elie was, by some of the language in the indictment, but they do have a lot of proof to get in before they can charge.
CAMEROTA: Guys, thank you all very much. It's great to get your analysis and your expertise on this. Thanks for guiding us through all of this breaking news this hour.
And we are continuing to follow a lot of breaking news.
Next, we're going to bring you to Surfside Florida, where we expect to hear from President Biden shortly. He has been visiting with the families of the dead and the missing.
And officials are telling a harrowing story of an unsuccessful search for a voice in the rubble.