Michael Cohen Sentenced to Three Years in Prison; Theresa May Survives No Confidence Vote Amid Brexit Drama; Canadian Citizens
<Show: EARLY START>
<Date: December 13, 2018>
<Head: Michael Cohen Sentenced to Three Years in Prison; Theresa May
Survives No Confidence Vote Amid Brexit Drama; Canadian Citizens
Missing in China; Aired 4-4:30a ET>
<Sect: News; International>
[04:00:18] DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: The president’s longtime personal lawyer is going to prison. The company that shielded Donald Trump in 2016 is now cooperating with the feds.
CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: And Nancy Pelosi strikes a deal. She’ll get the speaker’s gavel, but her time in power is limited.
BRIGGS: Another Canadian citizen now missing in China. The U.S., Canada and Beijing all digging in over the latest diplomatic tensions.
ROMANS: And would you pay an extra tax to text? California could start charging more. We’ll tell you why.
Good morning, everyone, and welcome to EARLY START. I’m Christine Romans.
BRIGGS: I hope not. I’m Dave Briggs. That’s more than 1,000 texts per month for our teenage girls.
BRIGGS: That is Thursday, December 13th, 4:00 a.m. in the East. We start with the massive news out of the nation’s capitol.
A three-year prison sentence for President Trump’s former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, and then another bombshell for an already shaken White House, federal prosecutors striking a non-prosecution agreement with AMI, that’s the parent company of “The National Enquirer.” The deal rules out charges against the tabloid publisher.
ROMANS: In exchange, AMI admits paying $150,000 to silence former Playboy Playmate Karen McDougal, part of an effort to bury bad press about Donald Trump. Michael Cohen even recorded a conversation he had with then candidate Trump about that payoff.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER TRUMP ATTORNEY: And I have spoken to Allen Weisselberg about how to set the whole thing up with funding.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: So what do we got to pay?
COHEN: Yes, and it’s all the stuff.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
BRIGGS: News of the deal with AMI came moments after Cohen’s sentencing for crimes, which included arranging those payments and lying to Congress about a Trump Tower project in Moscow during the campaign.
Cohen adviser Lanny Davis tells Bloomberg Cohen’s false testimony was shared with the White House and it’s possible President Trump knew Cohen would make false statements under oath.
ROMANS: All right. Not a peep from the president on Wednesday. But behind the scenes we’re told Mr. Trump is seething and assuring his associates Cohen is a liar.
Athena Jones has more.
ATHENA JONES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Christine and Dave.
This is the first time a member of the president’s inner circle has received a significant prison sentence in connection with special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe. Federal prosecutors detailed a pattern of deception by Cohen and asked for a substantial sentence. And U.S. District Judge William Pauley agreed, saying Cohen thrived on his access to wealthy and powerful people and he became one himself.
Cohen told the court he took full responsibility for his crimes and speaking about Trump, said time and time again I felt it was my duty to cover up his dirty deeds.
In admitting to illegally orchestrating hush payments before the 2016 election to former Playboy model Karen McDougal and to adult film star Stormy Daniels to keep them quiet about alleged affairs with Trump, Cohen implicated the president in felonies, saying Trump directed him to make those payments, something federal prosecutors noted in court papers. Now Trump has denied the affairs and denied knowing anything about the payments.
Cohen also admitted to lying to Congress and to special counsel investigators about his contacts with Russia. Cohen has pledged to continue to cooperate with Mueller’s investigation -- Dave, Christine.
BRIGGS: All right. Thank you.
Alleged Russian spy Maria Butina set to plead guilty to conspiracy charges in federal court in Washington today. She’s been cooperating with prosecutors offering information on how she was able to infiltrate U.S. political circles, including the NRA, and about the Russian official who directed her activities. The 30-year-old Russian national initially pleaded not guilty to conspiracy and acting as a foreign agent. The Russians are calling for her swift release.
ROMANS: Nancy Pelosi striking a deal to reclaim the speaker’s gavel when Democrats take control of the House next month. The longtime Democratic leader negotiating an agreement with a group of disgruntled Democrats who had lobbied to block her from becoming speaker. The deal would essentially guarantee Pelosi two more years as speaker, but she could serve no more than four on the job.
BRIGGS: As part of that agreement, Pelosi is backing a proposal to enact three-term limits for the party’s top three leaders. Anything beyond that would require approval by two-thirds of the Democratic Caucus rather than the current simple majority.
ROMANS: Lawmakers have agreed on new legislation to revamp the way sexual harassment claims are handled on Capitol Hill. For the first time, lawmakers will be held liable for paying their own harassment settlements out of their own pockets instead of using taxpayer money. That’s right. There is a taxpayer-funded slush fund for members of Congress to quietly settle sexual harassment claims against them.
[04:05:05] All settlements now will have to be made public when they are made. Members of Congress will be identified by name if they are personally liable. And all settlements will now be referred to the Ethics Committees for review.
BRIGGS: The final bill which has not been made public does not apply to other forms of discrimination like gender discrimination or pregnancy discrimination. The measure reconciles bills already passed by the House and Senate. Those bills would have expired if Congress did not reach agreement before the end of the year.
ROMANS: All right. Ultra conservative Congressman Mark Meadows is out of the running for the White House chief of staff. In a statement, the White House says Meadows is a great friend to the president and doing an incredible in Congress. And the president wants him to continue the great work he’s doing there. Meadows says whoever is chosen will have his complete support.
Among those President Trump is said to be considering, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, and U.S. Trade representative Bob Lighthizer. Some of those candidates have already indicated they are not interested.
And Lighthizer and Mnuchin are working real hard right now negotiating with the Chinese over some pretty thorny trade issues, so moving them to that position I think would be kind of complicated.
Bruised but certainly battle tested. British Prime Minister Theresa May has survived a leadership challenge triggered by members of her own party. But her battles are by no means over. Today she tries to convince European neighbors to reopen the dialogue over the Brexit withdrawal treaty.
Nic Robertson is live for us in London this morning.
Nic, good morning. Theresa May sticks around, but is she weakened by the fact that there was this vote? NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Hugely weakened. She now knows and everyone knows that a third of her MP’s are now against the deal that she’s trying to work for. If she’s to get the deal through parliament, she needs to get significant concessions from the European Union. She needs in parliament to be able to win over opposition MP’s. They smell the possibility of calling a vote of no confidence in the government and therefore having a general election.
But when she goes to Brussels, the politicians there don’t have the power to give her what she needs. So what the vote did yesterday was to throw into very, very sharp focus the depth of divisions, just how far apart everyone is on this Brexit negotiation which makes it more likely and more possible that Britain will leave the European Union without a deal, with all the huge economic consequences for Europe, for Britain, and potentially for trading partners around the world.
So I think the vote yesterday, she survived it, but it is an absolute wake-up call for everyone involved in this process. That the deal is far from done. And that’s a major concern. So there’s a real possibility that when Theresa May gets whatever she gets or not from the European Union, she brings it back here to parliament to try to get a vote, that vote is going to go down and then where will Britain be then? It will be left with even less time to try and figure out a new deal. Hence the possibility of not getting a deal at all -- Dave.
BRIGGS: Just an economic disaster ahead in just over 100 days.
Nic Robertson live for us in London. Thanks.
ROMANS: All right. Republican Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma purchased thousands of dollars of stock in a Defense contractor after pushing for more on military spending. Inhofe is chairman of the powerful Senate Armed Services Committee, his financial disclosure report list a purchase of between $50,000 and $100,000 in Raytheon stock.
BRIGGS: President Trump recently agreed to a Defense budget of $750 billion for 2019 after a meeting with Inhofe and others. Inhofe’s communications director claims the senator’s financial transactions are handled by a third party adviser. Inhofe had no involvement. She says Inhofe told his adviser to reverse the transaction once he became aware of it.
ROMANS: Melania Trump opening up about her life in the White House. She spoke to FOX News while visiting troops on the USS George H.W. Bush. She’s critical of the media. Here’s what she said when asked about the hardest part of being first lady.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MELANIA TRUMP, FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES: The opportunists who are using my name or my family name to advance themselves, from comedians to journalists.
SEAN HANNITY, HOST, FOX NEWS “THE SEAN HANNITY SHOW”: Does it hurt? M. TRUMP: It doesn’t hurt. The problem is they are writing the history and it’s not correct. They like to focus on the gossip. And I would like to be they focus on the substance and what we do, not just about nonsense.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ROMANS: Mrs. Trump went on to say she is not going to shy away from promoting her objectives and doing what she thinks is right for the country.
One could argue that the members of the media would like to focus on the substance, too.
ROMANS: But there is so much noise. And --
BRIGGS: She says rather than the nonsense. Well, if there wasn’t so much darn nonsense to focus on, I think the media could focus on the substance. Where does that nonsense comes from is down the hall.
[04:10:04] Ahead, Canada and the U.S. tell the president do not leverage the arrest of the Chinese executive to make a trade deal. Now two Canadians appear to be caught in a diplomatic standoff.
BRIGGS: A warning from Canada to President Trump. Do not use the arrest of a Chinese executive as a bargaining chip in trade talks with Beijing. Earlier this week, the president said he might intervene in the case of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou if it would help the U.S. and China reach a trade agreement. Now two Canadians are detained in China. The timing highly suspicious.
Will Ripley has the latest live for us from Hong Kong this morning. Good morning, Will.
WILL RIPLEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, Dave. Yes, I mean, if you’re Canada, you’re caught in the middle here because you’re bound by an extradition treaty with the U.S. to arrest for Meng Wanzhou, the tech giant of China. You can compare her to Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg. China furious. Starts to take it out on Canada, warning of grave consequences, a high price that Canada will pay if they don’t release Meng Wanzhou.
[04:15:06] But of course the U.S. wants her extradited in the U.S. to face up to 30 years in prison. They’re accusing her of evading sanctions on Iran to the tune of millions of dollars over five years.
So then nine days after this very controversial, high profile arrest involving Canada, you know, the United States, they requested it. You have two Canadians who China detains on the same day. One, a businessman, the other an ex-diplomat.
Michael Spavor, he was based on the border with North Korea. I’ve actually traveled to North Korea in the same group as Michael Spavor. He was most famous for traveling with Dennis Rodman back in 2013. He was detained, charged with activities that endangered the national security of China. The same language that China used when they detained Michael Kovrig, an ex-diplomat, who is now part of the international crisis group. It’s a think tank that focuses on conflict resolutions.
You have these two Canadians who are known in China who were taken into custody a little over a week after the arrest of basically a darling of the Chinese government. The daughter of the founder of Huawei, which is really a pillar of the Chinese economy. You have China warning Canada that there will be more consequences.
And I can tell you now, Dave, that American tech firms operating there, Qualcomm, Apple, they must also be taking a very close look at the movements of their own personnel because even though Canadians are being targeted right now, if this is indeed retaliation, and we don’t know, this could be a coincidence, the timing could be totally unrelated. But certainly a lot of nervous executives perhaps in China right now -- Dave.
BRIGGS: And certainly highly suspicious timing.
Will Ripley live for us in Hong Kong. Thank you.
ROMANS: All right. Optimism reigned in the U.S.-China trade saga, but the enthusiasm cooled toward the end of the trading day. The Dow ended up 157 points led by gains in companies with significant exposure to China, like Apple, Boeing, Caterpillar, 3M. The Dow had been up as much as 458 points earlier in the day. So another really big, big trading range. The S&P 500 closed .60 percent higher. The Nasdaq up 1 percent.
Some of the enthusiasm came from this “Wall Street Journal” report that suggested China’s top planning agency and senior policy advisors are drafting a replacement for “Made in China 2025″ to allow more access to the Chinese market -- to the U.S. and other foreign companies.
Now “Made in China 2025” that is Beijing’s industrial plan, its central economic plan, its goal to dominate high tech industries including robotics, aerospace, computer chips. To dominate that market globally. The stock market has been extremely volatile for the past few weeks. Rising and falling with the latest headlines about what’s next for U.S.-China trade relations.
So there’s a lot of headline risk in the stock market these days.
BRIGGS: Breaking overnight. A deadly train crash in Turkey’s capital. At least nine people killed, another 46 injured when a high- speed train derailed and slammed into an overpass near Ankara. Officials say the overpass collapsed on the two of the cars. The train was just starting a trip from Ankara station to the city of Konya in western Turkey. We’ll get details to you as they come in.
ROMANS: All right, 18 minutes past the hour. Caught on video. Police in Texas catch a little boy jumping for his life from a burning building. We will have more on that next.
[04:22:44] ROMANS: Three professors named in a federal sexual harassment lawsuit have been fired by Dartmouth. The school says it will announce a sweeping plan to combat sexual abuse when students and faculty return to campus in January. Seven women are suing Dartmouth’s trustees for $70 million in damages. The professors Todd Heatherton, William Kelley, and Paul Whalen are accused of turning the school’s Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences into a 20th century “Animal House.” The female students subjected to rape and sexual harassment.
Kelley and Whalen have not responded to CNN’s request for comment. Heatherton denies the allegations.
BRIGGS: NFL commissioner Roger Goodell defending the league’s handling of players involved in off-the-field misconduct. These comments coming just two weeks after the Kansas City Chiefs released running back Kareem Hunt on the same day surveillance video surfaced of Hunt shoving and kicking a young woman. The league has been criticized for not acting before TMZ posted the video. This is how the commissioner sees it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROGER GOODELL, NFL COMMISSIONER: I think what we’re doing as a league is extraordinary. We have, I think, some of the highest standards of any organization. We take this seriously. We have zero tolerance for violence against women. And as a league, I think we’ve responded very quickly.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ROMANS: The NFL previously said it began investigating the Kareem Hunt incident immediately after the February 10th altercation, but was unable to get access to the hotel surveillance video. Hunt has apologized, he has not been charged with a crime.
BRIGGS: California regulators want to tax your text messages. It’s a move that could change the way millions of people communicate in the nation’s most populated state. The idea is to make connectivity accessible to low-income residents by making up for lost revenue the state used to receive from a tax on voice calls. The new surcharge proposed by the California Public Utilities Commission would be a monthly fee based on the cellular bill that includes any fees for text. The exact structure of the charge would vary between carriers. The commission will vote on those measures January 10th.
ROMANS: From the dumb criminals file, a 29-year-old burglar in San Lorenzo, California, stuck in the grease vent of a closed Chinese restaurant for two days. He was discovered by the owner of the nearby business who heard his muffled screams for help.
[04:25:03] Almeida County firefighters had to dismantle the vent to get him out. Police believe the suspect planned to steal copper wire and plumbing. A sheriff’s spokesman says the department can confirm the man was not Santa Claus and had no legal authority to be in the story. Ouch.
BRIGGS: Serves them right.
All right. Dramatic video of Texas police catching a 10-year-old boy who was forced to jump in a window to escape a fire.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Come on. Bust off the glass. Let’s go. We got you, buddy. We got you. We got you, buddy. It’s OK.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Come on, come on.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It’s OK, buddy. It’s OK. OK.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BRIGGS: Wow. Balch Springs police officers responding to a structure fire where residents were trapped on the second floor. One of those officers threw his baton to break the window, allowing them for the jump. Three officers then caught the child in their arms. No injuries were reported.
ROMANS: Every day I just - -I’m so thankful for first responders. People whose job it is who get up in the morning, they do not know what the day is going to hold.
ROMANS: And you save a kid’s life.
BRIGGS: Very young boy to take that lead.
ROMANS: Bravo. That’s true.
BRIGGS: All right. Ahead, two longtime allies of the president both turning on the commander in chief. One sentenced to prison, while another agrees to spill secrets putting the president in jeopardy.
(Byline: Dave Briggs, Christine Romans, Athena Jones, Nic Robertson, Will Ripley)
(High: President’s former lawyer and fixer pleaded guilty to bank fraud and campaign finance law and other crimes. British prime minister must either then get Parliament to agree or the European Union to negotiate Brexit deal. Canada caught in the middle of U.S.- China dispute over Chinese executive.)
(Spec: Donald Trump; Michael Cohen; Abuse; Arms Control; Asia; Backgrounders; Banking; Business; Congress; Consumers; Crime; Death; Defense; Economy; Elections; Electronics; Employment and Unemployment; Espionage; Europe; Financial Services; Government; Hostages and Kidnappings; Human Rights; Justice; Lawsuits; Legislation; Media; Meetings; Middle East; Military; Murders; Peace; Police; Policies; Politics; Prisons; Products; Profiles; Safety; Sexual Harassment; Sports; Stock Markets; Taxes; Terrorism; Trade; Travel; Treaties and Agreements; Trials; Violence; Weapons; Women; World Affairs)