tv Situation Room With Wolf Blitzer CNN December 14, 2018 3:00pm-4:01pm PST
happening now, breaking news. acting out, president trump caps a dramatic week in the russia investigation by announcing his budget director mick mulvaney will become acting chief of staff. why did he make until tonight to make this reveal? mueller's rebuke. the special counsel fires back at michael flynn after the convicted former national security adviser tried to cast blame for his own lies on the fbi. we are getting new details on the russia probe in just-released documents. substantial evidence. after michael cohen incriminated president trump in court, he is publicly accusing his former boss of potential crimes in a tv interview. the former fixer says he has given mueller loads of proof mr. trump has died. a seven-year-old guatemalan girl dies in the desert and we
are learning what happened as the trump administration tries to deflect blame. you're in "the situation room". wolf blitzer is off. i'm brianna keeler. this is "cnn breaking news." breaking news tonight, president trump filling a big hole in his white house staff after days of frustration. he announced in a tweet a short while ago he is tapping budget director mick mulvaney to be his acting chief of staff, replacing john kelly. also breaking, the special counsel is refusing to let michael flynn suggest fbi agents were in any way responsible for his lies, lies the former national security adviser has admitted to in court. mueller's team refuting flynn's claims in his sentencing memo and indirectly rebuking president trump who tried to down play flynn's admitted crime. this as michael cohen says mr. trump is lying to this day,
including to mueller's probe. i will get reaction from congressman and correspondents and analysts are standing by. we will have more in a moment. let's go to cnn senior white house correspondent pamela brown and cnn justice correspondent evan perez. pamela, walk us through the special counsel's sharply-worded response to michael flynn? >> it was quite a scolding, special counsel mueller punching back that the former national security adviser wasn't warned about the repercussions of lying to the fbi. he says flynn chose to dlie wees before the fbi interviewed him and he was committed to his false story. nothing about the way the interview was arranged or conducted caused the defendant to make false statements to the fbi on january 24th. the defendant chose to make false statements about his
communications with the russian ambassador weeks before the fbi interview when he lied about that topic to media, the incoming vice president and other members of the presidential transition team. when faced with the fbi's questions on january 24th during an interview that was voluntary and cordial, the defendant repeated the false statements. so mueller's team also noted that the fbi gave flynn multiple opportunities in the interview to correct his false statements and that he only did so once the fbi used the exact language and presented it to him that he had used with kislyak from the phone call. now, the filing also includes some colorful details, noting that flynn and the fbi agents walked right past president trump on the day of the interview as trump was discussing art placement in the white house but he didn't seem to notice. neither did anyone else in the white house and flynn didn't introduce them. the interviewing agents also discussed the impression of flynn, that he was relaxed and jocular. they said he was bright but no profoundly sophisticated from the interview, and the agent
even noted that flynn was so talkative that the agents in the room wondered whether he didn't have more important things to do as a national security adviser. it is remarkable because these details wouldn't be coming out today from mueller's team had flynn's attorney not sort of, you know, fought back against them about the fbi interview and the circumstances surrounding it. >> they're saying this is -- this was your doing very clearly, right? >> yes. >> evan, moore also released some memos written by the fbi agents. this is interesting because they detail their interview with flynn. i wonder with the releasing of all of those details that are so interesting that pamela talks about, is there a message mueller is trying to send? >> i think one of the things they're trying to do is essentially squelch all of the questioning that you are hearing now, from people on the right especially. people are arguing, including the president by the way, they're arguing that michael flynn may have been railroaded by the fbi. in particular, one of the memos
is one from andrew mccabe, the former deputy director of the fbi, and he describes a phone call with michael flynn and michael flynn explaining why he was having these conversations with the russian ambassador. he says, quote, then he stated that i probably knew what was said. so what that calls attention to is this idea that michael flynn clearly told andrew mccabe that he suspected or he thought that someone was eaves dropping on that phone call. it really raises the question as to why he lied. there's another memo that was attached. this is a memo that describes the fbi interview, and they describe how in the middle of talking to him, one of the things they did, they repeated the exact words that flynn used himself during his phone call with the ambassador, the russian ambassador. again, flynn knew that they had the transcript of that phone call and yet, according to the special counsel and according to his own admission, he did not
tell the truth, brianna. >> so clearly, i mean they had these transcripts. this was being monitored. what is stunning, evan, is that as the former dia director, as a former very good, by all accounts, intel officer, that flynn what not be aware of all of that even as in the interview it became pretty apparent. >> right, exactly. that's one of the things that the mueller filing makes clear, that they recite not only his experience but the fact he is a national security adviser in the white house. he served more than a dozen years, decorated soldier in the military, and he was -- he ran the defense intelligence agency before he was fired under the obama administration. so clearly this is not somebody that was, you know, someone mo just fell off the turnip truck. he was someone very experienced in this and should have he known you can't tell a lie to the fbi when they're talking to you. >> still the recommendation from
mueller's team is there shouldn't be prison time, this guy has been helpful to the investigation? >> that's right. basically what they're saying to the judge in these filings is that what flynn said and what his lawyers said shouldn't mitigate the seriousness of lying to the fbi, but mueller's team is still standing by his recommendation of no jail time. >> evan, some new information that we're learning about maria butina. this is a separate investigation, but she is an alleged russian spy who was trying to infiltrate conservative circles. we got some very information that we were not actually supposed to see. >> right, exactly. almost as interesting as the information -- by the way, the information is that maria butina is cooperating with the prosecutors and she's due to go to court on december 18th and another one january 17th, next year. what this filing describes is essentially permission for her to travel to the u.s. attorney's offices in washington as well as the eastern district of
virginia. again, it talks about the fact that she is helping prosecutors with an ongoing investigation, but almost as interesting as the details of this, brianna, is the fact that this is not supposed -- this was not supposed to be released. minutes after it was filed and we were able to pull down a public copy of it, the special counsel, the courthouse withdrew the document so it is no longer available. by the way, the document also mentions she is going to be providing testimony to the grand jury, again another indication that maria butina is providing valuable information to the special counsel -- i'm sorry, to the prosecutors in washington apparently, in eastern district of virginia as well as to a grand jury that is doing an investigation. by the way, as cnn has previously reported that her boyfriend is actually somebody who is under investigation as part of this -- as part of the case that she already has pleaded guilty to. >> all right.
evan, thank you so much. pamela, really appreciate it. now with the breaking news out of the white house. budget director mick mulvaney tapped by the president to be his acting chief of staff. cnn chief white house correspondent jim acosta joining us on this story. tell us more about this announcement, and noteworthy is the timing. >> reporter: the timing is very noteworthy, brianna. the president appears to be dangling a bright, shiny object on this late friday evening, selecting his budget director mick mulvaney as his acting chief of staff. we should point out he has only been selected as an acting chief of staff. the president apparently trying to change the news cycle here, but even today with a moment us decision as naming a new chief of staff or an acting chief of staff, it is going to be tough to change the narrative of this news cycle with hits former attorney michael cohen speaking out, and not just to the special counsel's office. it was fixating tv as president trump's former fixer, michael cohen, explained federal prosecutors don't see his flip as a flop.
>> the special counsel stated emphatically that the information that i gave to them was credible and helpful. there's a substantial amount of information that they possess that corroborates the fact that i am telling the truth. >> reporter: in an interview with abc, cohen pushed back on the president's claim that he didn't issue an order to make hush money payments to a porn star and playboy model alleging affairs with mr. trump. >> let me tell you, i never directed him to do anything wrong. whatever he did, he did on his own. >> reporter: giving direction, cohen insisted, is what the president always did as a businessman. >> nothing at the trump organization was ever done unless it was run through mr. trump. he directed me. >> reporter: as for the president's claims he didn't commit any crimes, cohen noted the critical timing of the payments, just before the 2016 election. >> you have to remember at what point in time that this matter came about, two weeks or so
before the election, post the billy bush comments. so, yes, he was very concerned about how this would affect the election. >> reporter: despite all of the investigations now touching the trump organization, foundation, campaign, inauguration, transition and administration, the white house is brushing off cohen's comments saying they shouldn't be taken seriously. >> he's a self-admitted liar, you all know that. for him to say i'm going to stop lying starting now is somewhat silly. >> reporter: the cracks may be starting to form under the president's feet. consider the gop lawmakers all but lining up to back the president earlier this week as senator warren hatch did with cnn's manu raju. >> the democrats will do anything to hurt the president. >> reporter: this is not the democrat it, it is the southern district of new york. >> i don't care. he is doing a good job as president. >> reporter: he issued a statement saying, i made comments about the president
that were irresponsible and a poor reflex on my lengthy record of dedication to the rule of law. the president dangled a shiny object, selecting mick mulvaney as his new acting chief of staff. one other top contender, new jersey governor chris christie pulled himself out of the running early in the day, saying in a statement, it is an honor to have the president consider me as he looks to choose a new white house chief of staff. however, i've told the president that now is not the right time for me or my family to undertake this serious assignment. >> the situation is made much worse by the fact when you have family members in the white house, it makes it much more difficult, and there were many of us could counselled the president -- not just about jared but about any other members of his family having official positions. >> reporter: one clear is clear in the photo tweeted this week showing former chief of staff reince priebus and the outgoing john kelly, both look much
happier. one thing we shut point out about outgoing chief of staff john kelly, a senior official said that kelly will be staying on until the end of the year and then mick mulvaney will take over. the senior official tried to clean up some of the confusion over why mulvaney is being named an acting chief of staff at this point, this official telling reporters that he is the acting chief of staff which means he's the chief of staff. that is very confusing language coming from the white house, not really cleaning things up. the other confusing aspect of all of this, brianna, is that nick ayers, the vice president's chief of staff, was willing to be the new chief of staff over at the white house but he wanted to do it on an interim basis. the president apparently rejected that, wanted a permanent chief of staff, and here he is on this friday afternoon after the michael cohen news and the russia news, the president on friday afternoon saying he is okay with an acting chief of staff. >> thank you for trying to clear
it up at the white house, jim acosta. >> you bet. let's turn to breaking news that there is a new acting chief of staff who may be the chief of staff, i'm not sure. we are joined by gongman john garamendi, a democrat who serves on the armed services committee. on this chief of staff news, what do you think about the timing of this? >> i don't know, but it just seems -- brianna, it is a terrible, terrible problem for "saturday night live". you don't have to wait until saturday night to have, oh, my goodness, what is going on here. it is absolutely crazy time. mulvaney has now three jobs. first of all, acting is the right word. the president has not had a chief of staff. he's trying to do it all by himself, and the result is ultimate chaos. so mulvaney is going to be acting chief of staff. he also is running the consumer financial protection bureau and he is the director of the office
of management of budget. that office alone is enough to keep five people busy. bottom line of all of this is ultimate chaos, chaos in the operation of the most important government in the world, and it is serious, serious problem. i don't know what he's going to do there. perhaps just hold the title, acting, which is probably appropriate. >> this comes, of course, as there's been so much news about michael cohen, about michael flynn and the special counsel putting out filings today that show a rebuke of michael flynn's lawyers basically blaming the fbi for his lies. trump yesterday tweeted that the special counsel, quote, gave general flynn a great deal by the way he was treated. this filing by the special counsel at least indirectly rebukes that. what message do you think mueller is sending with the new document? >> he's saying, don't mets with me. he's being very, very clear
here. i've got the goods on you. don't mess with me. if you want it all to come out in a filing, you're going to get it to come out. if you're playing games with me, you've made a mistake. it is very clear. it goes way back. flynn was lying weeks, weeks before he ever became the director of -- in the oval office. when he got that position, he continued to lie. it is his problem. okay. bottom line of it, mueller has the goods on certainly flynn, certainly on the others, and quite probably on the president. >> why do you think that flynn, then the national security adviser, formerly the director of the dia, a respected intelligence officer prior to that, he lied to those fbi agents when he understands how these things work and clearly those agents had the transcripts? when you know that, that they clearly have the transcripts of his conversations with the russian ambassador, that he should have, that he would have
known that, why do you -- what questions do you have about his lies? >> well, i think it is about hubris. i remember very, very clearly the day of the inaugural, the members of congress were sitting there in the stands behind the president. flynn was talking to the joint chief -- the members of the joint chiefs of staff in a very puffed up way. you could see that this man was very, very taken by himself as he was talking to the members of the joint chiefs of staff. we were sitting not more than is a feet behind him and i was thinking to myself, there's something here about him that is not good. he has too high opinion of himself. so when the fbi came along to question him and to ask him, i think he thought he ruled the world and didn't have to respond to anybody, and he certainly, certainly was not wise or careful. >> president trump also attacked michael cohen. as you know, his credibility. cohen says, look, this isn't my word against the president's. he said the special counsel has
substantial, as he put it, evidence as well. what type of evidence do you think they might have? >> tapes and other people that were in the meeting. we know that the president of the ami, the publisher of the magazines, has already stated in a filing that trump, cohen and he were all in the same meeting together discussing the issue of how to keep people quiet. that was at least a year before the election. so i'm quite sure that everything that cohen and certainly anything that the prosecutors in the southern district of new york are using and will bring forward is very, very well backed up by the words and the physical information that's available. there's collaboration on all of this. >> we've learned a lot more about these investigations in the past two weeks. are these developments having any influence on your republican colleagues? do you talk to any of them? do you think that any of them
are, you know, thinking differently about the president's involvement here? >> oh, there's no doubt about it. there's absolutely no doubt the republicans -- >> they're telling you that? >> in quiet conversations you can see that they're very worried, they're very concerned about what's going on here, and they know that ultimately all of us in congress are going to face a question about how do we proceed. do we follow the constitution, carry out our obligations to hold the administration accountable, and i think they will want to do that. earlier in the show, just a few moments ago you guy, i think, a prime example of a very sub sta -- substantial senator that woke up and said, oh, my god, did i say that? i didn't mean to say that. >> orrin hatch. >> exactly. he backed up so hard he probably hit the wall on the way back. >> thank you for being with us, congressman garamendi. why did michael flynn like when
he seemed to know investigators had transcripts that would prove he wasn't telling the truth, and will mick mulvaney bring order to the white house? we will have more on president trump's pick of mick mulvaney to be his acting chief of staff. [woman 3] ...and clearer skin. [man 3] proof that i can fight psoriatic arthritis... [woman 4] ...with humira. [woman 5] humira targets and blocks a specific source of inflammation that contributes to both joint and skin symptoms. it's proven to help relieve pain, stop further irreversible joint damage, and clear skin in many adults. humira is the number one prescribed biologic for psoriatic arthritis. [avo] humira can lower your ability to fight infections. serious and sometimes fatal infections, including tuberculosis, and cancers, including lymphoma, have happened, as have blood, liver, and nervous system problems, serious allergic reactions, and new or worsening heart failure. tell your doctor if you've been to areas where certain fungal infections are common and if you've had tb, hepatitis b, are prone to infections, or have flu-like symptoms or sores.
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comes hours after michael cohen's bombshell tv interview, filled with new accusations against the president. let's bring in our analysts to talk about all of this. we keep getting more details from the special counsel, big stories that have to do with things that donald trump is seething about, we know that, our reporters are telling us that. but he tweets out that he's going to have this acting chief of staff, mick mulvaney. what do you think about this timing and this pick? >> well, the timing shouldn't be too surprising to any of us. the fact of the matter is donald trump likes to try to change the topic when he possibly can. now, the problem with this is that this isn't big enough, not a big enough story to overshadow the situation we're in right now. but i will say this, you are looking at a white house in full-blown crisis mode at this point. by putting mick mulvaney in there right now, he is somebody that the president can trust. mulvaney has shown that he is somebody that will stand by the president's side, and that's what he needs at this moment. >> does he want the job though?
because he's the acting, but jim acosta just reported he talked to a white house official who said, you know, what does it mean when he's acting white house chief of staff and the response was, well, he's the chief of staff. >> i think it is right. i think it would be hard for him to say, i don't want to do this job anymore. i think he very well may be in that job, you know, for the long haul, but let's be very clear about this. the most important job for the president will be who is the person speaking on his behalf and who is his lawyer representing him. >> very key. >> can we -- just one slightly different perspective on this. >> how dare you? don't interrupt me. >> in this town of washington, d.c. there will be political spin on this. i think you could step outside the beltway and say the psychology of this is much simpler. people are making fun of the president left and right. he is the president of the united states, this is one of the most powerful positions on the planet and sitting next to him is his chief of staff, and nick aers says, i don't want to do it, everybody else on the
planet says, i don't want to do. instead of sitting back, he's saying, i'm tired of people making fun of me, i'm going to have somebody in on friday night. >> i agree with you. that's the full-blown crisis mode though, the idea of let's plug the hole and move on. >> to be clear, the reason he is acting is because like all of the others mick mulvaney doesn't want this job. >> and perhaps that had been our reporting, so perhaps this will give him some type of exit if needed. look, you talk to white house officials and it sounds like they're saying, well, surprise, mick mulvaney, this may be your baby, you can't give it back. yesterday the president says, quote, they gave michael flynn a great deal, talking about the special counsel, because they were embarrassed by the way he was treated. the fbi said he didn't lie and they overrode the fbi. they wanted to scare everybody into making up stories that are not true by catching them in the smallest of misstatements, sad. fast forward to today, laura jarrett, there are these filings out that show exactly how all of
this went down, and at least it indirectly rebukes what the president said. >> i think directly rebukes it. >> it is as much about rebuking him as rebuking michael flynn's lawyers for saying the fbi caught him off guard? >> i don't know it was their intent, but it was the output of it. almost they do almost point by point destroys the tweet. he didn't get a great deal because they were embarrassed. he got a great deal because he's been cooperating from day one. i think the filings show how the fbi actually went out of their way to say, let's do this quietly, let's try to resolve it discreetly and let's get this done, much to the chagrin of the justice department, didn't inform them, went about it, got him in there to interview him on that day, two fbi agents come back and say, you know what, he didn't even show any deception, he didn't show any physical manifestation of his lies, knowing full well he had lied because they had him on tape, but it meant he was a really good liar. i think that's the question for all of us, is why was he lying
when he knew going into it they have me on tape saying something completely different. >> sean, it sounds like mueller was really -- as he is trying to protect his investigation and protect the process, he was not maep with michael flynn's lawyers, with how they tried to blame it on him being caught off guard. >> absolutely he was not. you can see it in the detail he laid out. i will tell you michael flynn is lucky today because mueller's team could easily have taken a look at this and said, you know, we tried to help you out here, we said to the judge directly we don't think you should get any significant time, and i think one of the things that mueller -- that flynn should be very happy about is he should understand that judges don't like to have their intelligence insulted. when his lawyers went in there and said, well, you know, the fbi may have, you know, kind of pushed this guy into lying by not telling him it was a problem to lie to the fbi, the judge is going to look at him and say, come on, do you think i'm going to buy that? i don't think flynn will get any time, but if he doesn't it is
only because mueller and his team decided they would stick with the original deal. >> wow. that is something, sean. phil, the fbi agents described their strategy interviewing flynn and they write this. if flynn said he didn't remember something they knew he said, they would use the exact words flynn used such as, and it is redacted, to try to refresh his recollection. the expectation is what the redacted part is talking about, a transcript of his phone call with the russian ambassador. >> refresh his recollection like he didn't remember. there's some traditions in america, there's mom, there's apple pie, there's the tooth fairy and there's the great tradition of how the fbi investigates and questions people. you are not going to walk in and say, here, we have a phone call with the russians, your he going to start with questions. can you talk about your interactions with the russians during the campaign, anticipate flynn will give you something and then you will narrow it down.
you will give him chance after chance and when he finally ties himself up in knots you're going to say, did you say anything about x, y and z as the transcript suggests. at that point if he says no, he is done because that's lying to the fbi. >> he's the head of an intelligence agency, not a doe-eyed hapless man the way it is being tweeted about, that it is a perjury trap. that belies what we know about michael flynn. this is someone whose career escalated to the highest levels of national security. >> we should be clear, director of the dia, a former respected intelligence officer. these resources the fbi had at their disposal, he is well aware of them. >> and they're struck by the fact he is talking about other stuff in the interview, seemingly happy to spend as much time with them as he wants. he is talking about artwork, all of these other random things to the fbi agents who he knows are there to talk about his interactions with kislyak.
>> how hard is it for an intel guy to think they're listening to the russian ambassador, how is that? >> here is what i wonder, with the knowledge that they would have been listening and the fact that they're basically reading the transcript to him, why would he still lie? >> here is what i -- here is the reason that i think michael flynn lied. so michael flynn went from having a mediocre tenure as director of the defense intelligence agency to being the national security advisor. >> he was fired as dia director. >> a meteoric rise. when he went into this circle with trump, manafort and cohen, he found himself in a space where people do what they want to do and protect each other. here you have flynn who has done something for the administration, for this team and he has lied about it, and he watches what happens with them and he thinks they're going to protect me, they're going to watch out for me. when he sat down with the fbi agents he thought, i'm okay, i will be fine. >> it is almost absurd we have to have a conversation that a
decorated general in the united states armed services doesn't know in fact he could be being taped by the fbi. the questions he is being asked about his interactions with a foreign government, that full well they know he is not answering them, you have to and woulder does it come down to president trump offering him some kind of clemency or at least a wink and a nod. >> all right. stand by for me. we have so much more breaking new. we will be right back here in "the situation room". here to tu for more information. that's why i recommend a free service called a place for mom. we have local senior living advisors who can answer your questions about dementia or memory care and, if necessary, help you find the right place for your mom or dad. we all want what's best for our parents, so call today.
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now we're back now with our wonderful team of analysts to talk about a new apology from an outgoing senior u.s. senator. orrin hatch initially asked, as you guys know, about donald trump being implicated in these felonies that michael cohen pled guilty to and he essentially said, i don't care, he's doing a great job as president. he has now reversed that. what do you think about that, laura? >> it is a stark reversal. especially in d.c., you don't see people backtrack. it took him a couple of ways, he didn't do it right away, but manu raju chases lawmakers all over capital hill every day asking what they think about the fact that these close associates of the president pled bliguilty are implicated in crimes. most don't strongly confirm it
or talk about the rule of law. they mention miler in terms of wanting the probe to do, but many mem don't do anything other than shrug it off. >> it is interesting that hatch said, i don't care. he even says in his response, he is essentially worried about how it makes his dedication to the rule of law look over the years. >> yeah, i think while people got to him and fairly quickly made him realize the error of his ways, i think it is a case of while i don't think there's necessarily a sea change represented here, i think it is a case that the republicans are starting to realize that the president's political and legal troubles have the potential to consume the entire party. i think if it happened six months ago it is unlikely we would have heard orrin hatch say anything at all. i think where we are today makes it something he has to speak out on. >> i can't figure it out. this country said from day one we are a country of values. now we say because we see evidence of a legal violation we will think about it. the president starts a campaign
by lying about president obama. everybody else including hope hicks, michael cohen, paul manafort, all admit they lie, and finally we say -- orrin hatch is a good man, but finally we say, wow, forget about values. if there's evidence that the law was broken maybe the family values party will sit up and say, we ought to take notice. what happened before? i don't know. >> this is what is so disappointing about what orrin hatch said. i remember long ago being a young reporter on capitol hill and seeing the likes of john chaffee and john warner and seeing the likes of hatch and kennedy get together and try to work together. they got together and they were called the old bulls and there was a bit of decorum and a moral compass that we would see from orrin hatch. when he said these comments, i thought, wow, he is leaving on a bad note. >> a bad swan song indeed. i appreciate the discussion. next, looking at the president's shifting story about hush money payments and what he knew about them.
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tonight we have broken down the contradictions, the shifting stories trump and his legal team have given about the money paid to keep two women silent. the hush money payments to stormy daniels and karen mcdougal may once have seemed embarrassing personally to president trump, but tonight they now threaten to harm him legally. experts say that may be why the president's story keeps changing, going from, i didn't know to it's not my fault to it's not illegal. in a new interview with abc, trump's former lawyer, michael cohen, says trump absolutely directed him to make the payments to daniels and mcdougal and did it with a specific purpose in mind, winning the presidency. >> he was very concerned about how this would affect the election. >> to help his campaign? >> to help him and the campaign. >> reporter: that, experts say, would be a violation of campaign finance law which may be why the president is blaming his lawyer for bad advice, tweeting thursday morning, i never directed michael cohen to break the law.
he is a lawyer and he is supposed to know the law. but that argument hardly lasted half a day because just hours after tweeting that, trump told "fox news" cohen barely did legal work for him. >> that was his title, a fixer. >> very low level work. he did more public relations than he did law. >> why did you need him then. >> reporter: but back in april the president had a different view of cohen on air force one when he denied knowing about the stormy daniels' payment. >> mr. president, did you know about the $130,000 payment to stormy daniels? >> no, no. >> reporter: did michael cohen pay that? >> you have to ask michael cohen. michael is my -- an attorney. you have to ask michael. >> reporter: in august his story changed again when trump was asked by, yes, another "fox news" anchor if he knew about the payments? >> later on i knew. later o but you have to understand, ainsley, what he did -- and they weren't taken out of campaign finances. >> reporter: experts say that argument may not hold water, especially because the president
according to a source was at a meeting in august of 2015 discussing hush money payments with cohen and david pecker, the ceo of "the national enquirer's" parent company. >> does it give him an out to say that, "i knew about it later?" >> no, it doesn't give him an out that he knew about it later. once he knew about it, he was party to the violation. >> reporter: another shift in the story comes from trump's legal adviser rudy guilliani. he told fox that cohen who took out a home equity loan to pay stormy daniels, he reimbursed it. >> is it an admission that he knew about it earlier? >> yes. why would he reimburse him if he didn't know about the payment? >> reporter: in the same interview guilliani suggested paying cohen back meant he hadn't violated campaign finance laws. >> that money is not campaign money. i'm giving you a fact you don't
know. it is not campaign money. no campaign finance violation. >> they funneled it through the law firm? >> funneled through the law firm and the president repaid it. >> reporter: experts say the repayment of cohen which prosecutors say came in the form of fake retainer payments to him from the trump organization still means there are probably campaign violations. that may be why trump suggested another version of the story on thursday when he denied paying back media conglomerate ami for its role in hush money payments to mcdougal. >> i don't think they even paid any money to that tabloid. i don't think we made a payment to that tabloid. >> by not paying them back you have a straight-out corporate contribution to the campaign. >> reporter: in fact, it may make it worse, all of which experts say begs the question, are all of these shifting stories taken as a whole a crime? >> to support the idea that he has committed crimes, whether it is the knowing and willful
violation because he's trying to hide it, showing he knows there's something wrong here, and it also can be an element of obstruction of justice, that he is trying to influence other witnesses, if he is trying to influence the jury with lies. >> reporter: but experts caution there's also the possibility all of these shifting stories may actually not prove obstruction of justice simply because we don't know everything trump and his legal team have told to prosecutors and trump and his team could make the case that the president was confused about the law, confused about what obstruction really means, even though he's always had lawyers to tell him what that means. >> brian todd, thank you very much. now, just ahead, a migrant child detained by u.s. border agents dies in custody. the trump administration is on the defensive as we're learning new details about what happened.
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tonight, homeland security officials are defending the way that border agents responded to a 7-year-old girl who became violently ill and died in their custody. but the case is sparking outrage and escalating concerns about the trump administration's treatment of migrant children. cnn's martin savage is covering this story. walk us through this, martin, what happened to this young girl, jakelin caal maquin. >> reporter: everyone agrees that this is a tragedy, where there's disagreement as to who's to blame.
it begins on december 6th in a very remote part of new mexico at about 9:00 in the evening when three border patrol agents find a large group, 163, what they believe are undocumented migrants who have just come across the border from mexico. in that group, a father and daughter from guatemala. the group is so large that it takes two buses to transport them back to the main station which is an hour and a half away. the father and daughter are on that second bus. it's now 4:00 in the morning when the father reports his daughter has stopped breathing. she was vomiting and seemed to have a high temperature. emts are summoned. they bring her back to life, get her to the station and then realize she is so bad off, they fly her to a children's hospital in el paso. but tragically, she died there less than 24 hours later. it's later determined by doctors she was dehydrated and had died of septic shock, so now what people are asking is, was there something about the way she was detained or how she was apprehended that might have delayed proper medical
treatment, or, in fact, may have contributed to her condition and her death. that's being investigated. dhs has put a statement out and they say that without life-saving measures undertaken by border patrol, this child would have likely died in the desert alone without any medical care whatsoever. the entire department is heartbroken by this loss of life. but as you point out, this once again brings up the whole issue of is this a heartless administration that's at fault here, or is it the father and those that came from guatemala taking a 7-year-old child across a very difficult and desert-like land? >> that was certainly the point that the dhs secretary made, the latter one. martin savage, thank you so much for that report. also new tonight, the outgoing republican governor of wisconsin has signed legislation stripping his successor, a democrat, of some executive powers and our political reporter is here with this story
for us. how consequential is this move by governor scott walker? >> reporter: it's a major controversial move by governor walker. just a month after he lost reelection to democrat tony eavers, sending a very strong message on his way out the door that he isn't afraid to curb some powers of the incoming administration, even as democrats are calling this something of a sore loser response at best and at worst, an unconstitutional power grabby walker and wisconsin republicans in the state house. walker says that's all hype and hysteria and he said in a statement today that these measures do nothing to fundamentally diminish executive authority, but democrat tony evers responded, saying walker chose to ignore and override the will of the people of wisconsin. this will no doubt be scott walker's legacy. the people demanded a change on november 6th, election day, and they asked us to solve problems, not pick petty political fights.
and so, this is just the beginning. there could be legal challenges down the road, and in fact, democrats are planning on challenging this in courts. so we'll see where it goes. >> ohio governor john kasich took issue with this. he basically said what democrats are saying and when you look at this, rebecca, it's very clear that there are powers that will be limited, whether it's appointment powers, for instance. there's a series of things that are going to be pared down for the governor in the incoming democratic a.g. >> absolutely. and these measures also limit what evers is able to do in terms of implementing some of his fundamental campaign promises. one of the things he wanted to do was withdraw wisconsin from the multistate lawsuit against the affordable care act. now he won't be able to as a result of this measure. it blocks him from being able to do so, and so democrats are saying he's coming in with his hands tied on some of these fundamental policy issues that were central to the campaign, and they say voters made their voices heard on those issues by electing evers over scott
walker. >> all right, rebecca, also happening in michigan, worth noting as well, rebecca buck, thank you so much for that report. thank you so much for watching and being with us here in the situation room. "erin burnett outfront" starts "erin burnett outfront" starts right now. -- captions by vitac -- www.vitac.com the special counsel's secret, mueller's team shutting down an entire floor of a washington courthouse to secretly make the case for a very important client to testify in front of the grand jury. who is it? this as the list of investigation grows again for trump tonight. plus, breaking news, president trump naming an acting chief of staff, a surprise announcement days after the president was adamant he would not accept anyone as acting chief of staff. and california's chief justice, lifelong republican, quits the republican party. was it because of trump? she's going to come "outfront." let's go "outfront."