Trump campaign calls Cohen's testimony 'worthless' in statement

This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," February 27, 2019. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER TRUMP ATTORNEY: I am ashamed because I know what Mr. Trump is. He is a racist. He is a conman. And he is a cheat.

Mr. Trump knew of and directed the Trump Moscow negotiations throughout the campaign and lied about it. He lied about it because he never expected to win. Questions have been raised of whether I know of direct evidence that Mr. Trump or his campaign colluded with Russia. I do not.


BAIER: Michael Cohen, 8,300 miles away from Hanoi, Vietnam, as we get ready for this summit here, testifying about a host of issues. The Trump campaign putting out a statement today, saying "Michael Cohen is a felon, a disbarred lawyer, a convicted perjurer who lied to both Congress and the Special Counsel. Now he offers what he says is evidence, but the only support for that is his own testimony which has proven before to be worthless. This is the same Michael Cohen who has admitted that he lied to Congress previously. Why did they even bother to swear him in this time?"

Let's bring in our panel, Charles Hurt, opinion editor for "The Washington Times," Marie Harf is co-host of "Benson and Harf" on FOX News Radio, and "Washington Post" columnist Marc Thiessen. OK, Marc, your takeaway from today?

MARC THIESSEN, AMERICAN ENTERPRISE INSTITUTE: So this testimony was the bombshell that didn't explode. There was a lot of stuff that was embarrassing for Donald Trump, and most embarrassing was his association with Michael Cohen.

But remember, before this testimony there was all this speculation that Michael Cohen had recorded conversations with Donald Trump, that he might have had recordings about him talking about colluding with Russia or knowing about the Trump Tower meeting or telling him to lie to Congress. It turns out he didn't have any of that. He didn't have any evidence of anything that was impeachable. And in fact, some of the things he said was actually exculpatory.

So you played that clip at the beginning of the segment where he said that Donald Trump didn't expect to win. He said elsewhere that he just treated the whole campaign as an infomercial for the Trump brand. If that's the case, that kind of undermines the argument that the payoff to Stormy Daniels was a campaign finance violation because it's only a crime if he was doing it to advance his campaign. If he was doing it to not embarrass his wife or for his wife not to find out, that's sleazy, but it's not criminal. So actually, Michael Cohen provided exculpatory evidence that Donald Trump really didn't commit a campaign finance violation, which I think is kind of interesting.

BAIER: He definitely didn't have any information on collusion when asked about that numerous times, numerous ways. But as to your point about the Stormy Daniels' payment and the other payment that he said were retainers, here is that exchange with the one of the congressmen.


MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER TRUMP ATTORNEY: The president of the United States thus wrote a personal check for the payment of hush money as part of a criminal scheme to violate campaign finance laws.

The payments were designed to be paid over the course of 12 months, and it was declared to be a retainer for services.

REP. RO KHANNA, D-CALIF.: The president directed transactions in conspiracy with Allen Weisselberg and his son, Donald Trump Jr., as part of a criminal conspiracy of financial fraud. Is that your testimony today?



BAIER: Then, Marie, he brought forward two different checks, both signed by the president, as president, and he said that these were part of that payment. Your thoughts on that?

MARIE HARF, "BENSON AND HARF" CO-HOST: He also testified, Bret, that the reason the president wanted him to pay off Stormy Daniels was explicitly to impact the outcome of the election. So even if he didn't expect to win, he was trying to impact that.

But I think one of the bigger, more important things that we heard today from Michael Cohen was his testimony that he witnessed other criminal behavior by the president that the Southern District of New York is currently looking into, and therefore he couldn't get into those details. But he opened the door to the fact that the Southern District of New York, the place many people think actually holds more legal jeopardy for the president, that they are looking into other possible criminal acts.

I also think on the Russia issue, Bret, when he talked about Roger Stone and WikiLeaks, Roger Stone giving the president a heads up that WikiLeaks was going to be releasing damaging emails, that doesn't answer questions, but I think it actually opens the door to even more questions about what else Donald Trump discussed with Roger Stone about WikiLeaks. We don't know.

BAIER: Yes, I think Roger Stone had tweeted something out the week before about that.


BAIER: But anyway, Charlie, your thoughts on this?

CHARLES HURT, OPINION EDITOR, "WASHINGTON TIMES": The whole thing was incredibly entertaining. It was a little bit like watching all three episodes of "The Godfather" on a nice cold rainy day and you could sit inside and be entertained.

But in all seriousness, this is a guy who says Donald Trump is a racist, he's a con man, he hates America, and yet he worked for him for 10 years? And obviously, his whole record for veracity around here is not all that great. My favorite mistruth of the day was when he claimed that the reason that he decided to flip is because of a calling of his conscience and he wanted to clear everything up. No, the reason that he flipped is because his office got raided. And the reason that he's going to jail is not because of these supposed campaign finance violations, which, by the way, the last person on earth that I would get any legal advice from, especially on federal campaign finance laws, is Michael D. Cohen. He's not who I'm going to go to for that.

BAIER: He also said -- go ahead.

HURT: But I think it's very important to remember that, of course, what he's going to jail for is defrauding on his taxes and defrauding in his taxi medallion business.

BAIER: Yes. He also said he didn't want a White House job, and there was a lot of evidence, even the Southern District of New York put it in the filing that he really wanted to be at the White House. Here is Jim Jordan from our interview early about his take on the whole thing.


REP. JIM JORDAN, R-OH: Last week Tom Steyer, mega-donor for the Democrats, was in Jerry Nadler's district organizing a town hall meeting to persuade Mr. Nadler to go ahead and move ahead with impeachment. Two nights ago, Tom Steyer was in Baltimore in Chairman Cummings' district, organizing a town hall encouraging his constituents to push Chairman Cummings ahead with impeachment. That's what this thing was about today.


BAIER: Marc, these hearings are always a bit frustrating to watch the questioning not going after the substance a lot of speechifying. Obviously, Republicans decided that they were going to spend their time to reduce or take away any credibility that Cohen had. But your thoughts on their strategy?

THIESSEN: Taking away Cohen's credibility is low-hanging fruit. That wasn't hard to do. But I'll tell you, they do have a point not just about Cohen's credibility but about the Democrats' credibility in having this hearing. The fact is to have this hearing on this day when you're in Vietnam, the president is in Vietnam meeting with Kim Jong-un, trying to focus on the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, which is possibly the most important national security issue facing our country, and both sides, everybody, whether you're a Republican or Democrat, has an interest in him succeeding, to have specifically chosen this day in order to have -- it didn't work because of the time difference, but they wanted to have a split screen, it's unpatriotic. And I think Americans saw that.

BAIER: Well, we are going to take your cue and talk about Hanoi. Panel, thank you very much. Our panel here in Hanoi with some experts, we're covering this Trump-Kim summit right after the break.



DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT: If you could have heard that dialogue, what you would pay for that dialogue, a lot of things are going to be, you saw.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER, D-N.Y., MINORITY LEADER: President Trump seems more interested in touting his warm relationship with Chairman Kim as an accomplishment in and off itself. President Trump calling a brutal autocratic leader a friend on Twitter is no substitute for actually achieving something for the American people in Hanoi.


BAIER: Skepticism from Democrats back in D.C. Here in Hanoi, we're about two plus hours from the meeting between President Trump and Kim Jong-un, and a lot of optimism from the president, tweeting out "All false reporting (guessing) on my intentions with respect to North Korea. Kim Jong-un and I will try very hard to work something out on Denuclearization & then making North Korea an Economic Powerhouse. I believe that China, Russia, Japan & South Korea will be very helpful!"

With that, let's bring in our panel here in Hanoi. Olivia Enos is Asia Policy Analyst with the Heritage Foundation, and Alex Wayne, White House editor for "Bloomberg." Thank you both for being here. I guess the question I really want to get to before all of this kicks off is what does success look like? Let's start with you, Olivia.

OLIVIA ENOS, HERITAGE FOUNDATION: I think success looks like a return by the Trump administration to a call for what is a legally required definition of denuclearization, that complete, verifiable, irreversible dismantlement of North Korea's nuclear program. And I think we need to see those verifiable, tangible, measurable stats, like North Korea permitting IAEA inspections or saying that it will submit to a full data declaration. These would be positive steps that demonstrate that North Korea is sincere. But I think beyond denuclearization, what would be really positive is if President Trump went even a step further and raised some of those thorny human rights issues that are actually directly connected to some of the nuclear challenges and may help the U.S. to achieve some of those objectives.

BAIER: Alex, we know that North Korea doesn't have a great track record with truth, with living up to commitments.

ALEX WAYNE, "BLOOMBERG": Understatement.

BAIER: And the trust but verify from Reagan is going to be a tough bar for any denuclearization. But there are baby steps here.

WAYNE: There are. Olivia reminds me that we haven't even heard this acronym this week, CBID, that they used so much in the first summit. I think Trump deserves some credit for just reducing tensions with North Korea. They're no longer testing nukes, they're no longer flinging missiles over Japan. We are not at the brink of war, which is what it seemed like at points during President Trump's first year.

But now I think arms control experts would say that it's time to show some concrete and verifiable progress on the North Korea side so that we have some assurance that this is actually leading toward denuclearization and not an acknowledgment of North Korea as a nuclear power.

BAIER: I mentioned this last night with another panel, but the hunger for North Korea to be an economic powerhouse, the president referenced it in his tweet, he's talked about it a lot. First summit in Singapore, economically blooming. Second summit here in Vietnam, doing great. Do we have a sense of what Kim's thought process on economics?

WAYNE: I would be surprised if Kim is as eager for western economic development in this country as the president seems to think he is. I think Kim would regard western development, fast food restaurants and U.S. clothing stores and Hollywood movies in North Korea as a threat to his regime. When people start seeing those sorts of luxuries, they then begin to wonder why has the regime been withholding this stuff from us for so long.

BAIER: Olivia?

ENOS: Regrettably, I think that all of this talk about economic reform with North Korea is really a foreshadowing of the president potentially moving towards some sort of sanctions relief. We've been hearing in the leadup to the summit that perhaps there's going to be some sort of deal where we are trading the closure which has been promised many, many times before, of the Yongbyon nuclear facility. Here we are in 2019, Yongbyon is still here.

But they're saying that maybe they are going to trade it in exchange for either inter-Korean economic activities, which would be a form of sanctions relief, or some other form of sanctions relief. And I think this would be a huge mistake because it would represent the Trump administration stepping away from really what has been the only successful pillar of its policy, that maximum pressure strategy.

BAIER: What's fascinating is this is different than any other summit or negotiation with any other country. This is not the bottom-up thing. This is really the top dogs figuring it out, and it all happen in a couple of hours. Panel, thank you so much, Olivia, Alex.

WAYNE: Thank you.

BAIER: When we come back, some final thoughts from Hanoi.


BAIER: The view behind us here in Vietnam right next to the president's hotel where he is staying. For us on the ground today is the start of the final day of the summit here in Hanoi. Many events will be tomorrow for those of you back in the states. We expect to see another historic meeting between President Trump and the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un before the president heads back to the states. "Special Report" will be sticking around here for another show, wrap everything up that happens, and give you more looks at the local sites here in Hanoi. Sean Hannity has a big interview with the president after the meeting. Tomorrow there's a news conference as well which will be interesting. All things covered.

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