Political fallout from Michael Cohen's new plea deal

This is a rush transcript from "Special Report with Bret Baier," November 29, 2018. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Michael Cohen is lying.  He's a weak person, and what he is trying to do is get a reduced sentence.  We were thinking about building a building. I decided ultimately not to do it. Even if he was right, it doesn't matter, because I was allowed to do whatever I wanted during the campaign.

SENATE MINORITY LEADER CHUCK SCHUMER, D-N.Y.: He is afraid of the truth and he doesn't want Mueller or anyone else to uncover it.

SEN. MARK WARNER, D-VA.: If anything the president has said is true, that there's no there there, why are all his closest associates being found guilty of lying about their ties to Russia?


BRET BAIER, ANCHOR: It surprised us, but we are told that the White House knew about it Wednesday night, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein knew what about it on Monday, that Michael Cohen was going to appear in court and plead guilty to lying to Congress. U.S. versus Michael Cohen, court filing, "Cohen made false statements to both the House and Senate intelligence committees to, one, minimize links between the Moscow project," this it the Trump project in Moscow potential, "and individual one, Trump, and, two, gives false impressions that the Moscow project ended before the Iowa caucuses in the very first primary in the hopes of limiting the ongoing Russia investigations. The Moscow project was discussed multiple times within the company and did not end in January 2016. Instead, as late as approximately June, 2016, Cohen and individual two," believed to be Felix Sater, "discussed efforts to obtain Russian governmental approval for the Moscow project."

Now, back in January of 2017, President Trump tweeted this, he also talked about it, but he tweeted this, "Russia has never tried to use leverage over me. I have nothing to do with Russia, no deals, no loans, no nothing."

Let's bring in our panel, former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer, Susan Page, Washington bureau chief at USA Today, and Mollie Hemingway, senior editor at The Federalist. OK, Ari, your impressions o today, how significant, what it means for the president and the Mueller investigation.

ARI FLEISCHER, FORMER WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: As Charles Krauthammer used to say, this feels like a cover-up of something that is not a crime. There is no underlying issue here that would require somebody or make somebody think they need to lie. What difference does it make if this project ended in January of 2017 or January of 2016 or June of 2016? So when Michael Cohen lies about it, what's the purpose, what's the motive? And I can't see any motive here. Why would he do it? There is no underlying crime, there's nothing wrong with -- it might be unsavory for a person running for the presidency to do business deals abroad while they're running for president, but it's not a crime.

BAIER: Susan?

SUSAN PAGE, USA TODAY: If you want to know whether President Trump thinks this is a serious issue, just look at his response, which has been quite agitated. And he clearly thinks this is a serious story.

And I think there's a big difference between January and June, actually, because by June it was clear that Donald Trump was going to be the Republican nominee for president. And at that time his personal lawyer is reaching out to a Kremlin official for help on a private business deal at a time the Russians also have a concerted effort to meddle in our presidential election to hurt Hillary Clinton and help Donald Trump. That is a web that is being revealed by special counsel Mueller. It's not over yet. This isn't the less disclosure we're going to have, but it seems to me that's a troubling context to look at today's plea deal.

BAIER: Mollie?

MOLLIE HEMINGWAY, THE FEDERALIST: It's just worth remembering that the special counsel was set up to investigate treasonous collusion with Russia to steal an election, not to investigate whether Donald Trump is a global businessman and was doing business in the 2016. It is good, though, to hold people accountable for lying to Congress. It is a very bad thing to do. And it's been unfortunate that we've seen so few people held accountable for lying to Congress even in this Russia story.

For instance, Christopher Steele, who built the entire Russia dossier, was referred by the head of the Senate Judiciary Committee almost a year ago because they knew he lied to the FBI. Glenn Simpson gave testimony, he is the guy who was hired by Hillary Clinton to set up the whole Russia story - - he gave testimony that was at odds with what Bruce Ohr gave, meaning that one or both of them lied to Congress. So it's important that everybody be held accountable for lying to federal officials.

It's not even just them. You look at James Clapper who lied to Congress about spying on everyone, John Brennan who lied to Congress about spying on Congress, Hillary Clinton who lied about whether she knew how classified systems work in her interview with the FBI. So holding people accountable for lying is a good thing. It should be done overall.

BAIER: Sure. Donald Trump is not at the time, January, 2017, under oath as he's tweeting that we had no ties, no nothing, no loans. Obviously he's not under oath when he's telling reporters that he had nothing ever to do with Russia.

HEMINGWAY: But he didn't have business deals with Russia.

BAIER: It didn't develop, but it was being discussed as it continued on until June as opposed to January.

My point is, is that is there something here as far as money? We don't know. Deutsche Bank did a lot of his deals. They got raided for the Panama Papers today. There's no tangential -- we don't know that it's tied at all, but if there's a money link here, is it beyond then lying to Congress, and is Russia holding something over Donald Trump's head?

FLEISCHER: Bret, you just used the magic words we should all abide by.

BAIER: We don't know.

FLEISCHER: We don't know. And the problem I have with this town is when people don't know it doesn't stop them from talking. They make the worst accusations then can make against people in public life who they do not like even if they do not know any of the underlying facts, which is what Senator Schumer did today, which is what Senator Warner did today.

BAIER: But I'm saying to you, I'm asking you where potentially could it go?

FLEISCHER: I'm not willing to speculate because only Bob Mueller will know that, and I don't think any of us should try to put ourselves in Mueller's shoes and speculate it's one way or another. If Mueller has got the goods, Mueller will deliver the goods, and we'll judge at the time. If he doesn't, this town owes Donald Trump a huge apology for two years.

BAIER: And is there a sense, Susan, in this town that it's coming to a head, that it comes before Christmas, perhaps?

PAGE: I think there is a sense that Robert Mueller seems to be closer and closer to making a report on some aspects of the investigation. His investigation is not going to end then, but the aspects involving President Trump most directly that we've been so curious about -- there's something else that's going to happen in January, and that is Democrats in the House are going to gain the power to have hearings and demand testimony and subpoena documents. And the question you just raised about did Russia launder money through the Trump Organization, that's been one of the things that's been speculated about, that is a specific issue that Adam Schiff, the new chairman of the House Intelligence Committee said today he is going to start pursuing as soon as he is able.

BAIER: Mollie?

HEMINGWAY: We don't start with finding -- we don't say here is the person, find me the crime. We look at the crimes and then we determine what should be done about it. And there has been so much crazy speculation without any evidence of a crime. And yet we actually have evidence of all sorts of criminal things, like criminal leaking of classified information against Trump officials, lying to a FISA court, all sorts of problems like this, that aren't even being worried about by people who think if we just keep digging, maybe we can finally get Trump. How about we deal with actual crimes and start investigating those?

BAIER: I'm going to play this protection of Special Counsel Mueller, first for minority leader, now, Chuck Schumer.


CHUCK SCHUMER, (D) SENATE MINORITY LEADER: This idea that we don't need to pass legislation to protect the special counsel because there's no way President Trump will interfere with the investigation is flat-out absurd.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Our job here should be to protect Robert Mueller so that he can do his job, and he can do his job not for him, but for the American people.

REP. PAUL RYAN, (R) SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES: Bob Mueller has been left alone, I think he is going to continue to be left alone. If I was really, really stressed about Bob Mueller, I'd do something. I'm not worried about Bob Mueller.


BAIER: The president has said he's not firing Bob Mueller. Matt Whitaker has said he doesn't have any plans to get rid of Bob Mueller. But there is really an effort on Capitol Hill to protect Bob Mueller.

FLEISCHER: From what? If Donald Trump an Acting Attorney General Whitaker were threats to the Mueller probe, then why did Bob Mueller indict, get that plea agreement with Michael Cohen? He had no problems getting that. No one is interfering with him. No one is cutting his budget. No one is even going to say you are laid off in case the government closes down.

So it's an unconstitutional move in the first place, which is why I oppose it as somebody who used to work in the White House. Congress does not have the power to tell the president you can or cannot fire somebody who is an inferior officer in the executive branch. So it's unconstitutional. And I don't know how you can say you're trying to defend Bob Mueller and the Constitution by passing an unconstitutional law.

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