Lawyer Seeks Deposition of Trump
Brianna: And joining me now, we have CNN Legal Analyst Page Pate, he’s a criminal defense attorney and constitutional lawyer, and CNN Politics Senior Writer, Juana Summers. So Page, in this motion to depose that was filed this morning, Michael Avenatti outlines his legal argument. In it he cites Clinton versus Jones, it’s, of course, the ’97 Supreme Court case that established that actually a sitting president has no immunity from civil litigation. Is part of that posturing? We know certainly how that ended for President Trump. And do you think that the president may actually be deposed here, or is it just a stunt?
Page: Well, Brianna, it is certainly an aggressive move to go ahead and file a motion with the federal judge to see if they will order the president and Michael Cohen to submit to a deposition, but I do think he has a good legal argument for it. This particular agreement does contain an arbitration clause, and 99% of the time, that’s all the judge has to do. If you have an arbitration clause in the agreement, the judge is done with it, he sends it to an arbitrator, and you don’t see the inside of a courtroom, and you don’t have this type of a deposition. But I think this arbitration clause and this entire non-disclosure agreement was so poorly drafted that now Stormy Daniels’ legal team does have a solid legal argument that there was never any deal in place, and that is an issue that a federal judge has to pass on before the case is sent to arbitration. So yes, now that there’s an issue for the federal judge, it is realistic and understandable to request some limited discovery, including depositions of the people who supposedly were parties to this agreement.
Brianna: Juana, we heard Stormy Daniels’ lawyer, Avenatti, say that he wants to prove to the American people that President Trump and that Michael Cohen, his lawyer, are lying. Well, when you look at polls, this doesn’t really seem to be having an effect on President Trump. Why do Avenatti’s claims, why does all of what he’s doing matter?
Juana: So I think it matters not necessarily in the universe of polls. I do think that if more of this comes out, if the president does indeed have to go and be deposed, that it could speak to his credibility, his character. But I think the bigger question here is what Pate was alluding to, whether or not there is actually a legal question here. You know, whether or not if Stormy Daniels was paid money by Michael Cohen for reasons related to the presidential campaign, then that goes into campaign finance territory, and that could have significant ramifications, I think, for this White House.
Brianna: We’ve seen, Page, that Avenatti really seems to be using Trump’s playbook himself. He’s teased some alleged evidence on TV and on Twitter. He’s attacked his opponents publicly. He put out a tweet needling Cohen and Schwartz this morning that says, “Can someone please ask Michael Cohen to call down to central casting again and order up a new hack to speak on his behalf? I’m bored with batting around David Schwartz.” Is this something that’s going to help or hurt him in court, or is that not the point?
Page: I don’t think it’s the point, but it is interesting, Brianna. I think once this is all over with perhaps President Trump is secretly thinking, “I want this guy as my lawyer,” because he is following the exact type of tactics we’ve seen Trump’s legal teams use in the past when Trump was a private citizen. So the more he presses, the more aggressive he is in this litigation, the more likely it is that he’s going to get Trump in a deposition, and then that’s where it become critically important, because any question that the president answers under oath falsely in a deposition could be grounds for criminal prosecution of perjury completely aside from any campaign finance violations or any Russia collusion. Lying under oath in a deposition is a crime.
Brianna: Page, when you see Cohen’s lawyer engaging publicly the way he has, I mean, what’s your assessment of that? Is that something that you think serves Michael Cohen well or even the interests of the president well?
Page: That’s a great point, Brianna, because right now, Cohen is not just a lawyer in the case, he’s a defendant in the case. And so there’s a potential conflict of interest here. I understand Cohen does have legal representation, so he really needs to act like a defendant now and not like a lawyer. He does not need to engage these folks outside of a courtroom or outside of a deposition. It’s a different role for somebody to play who’s used to being the lawyer, used to being the guy asking the questions. Now, he’s on the receiving end of that and he needs to act differently because it’s a totally different situation.
Brianna: Juana, we talked to Jeff Zeleny just a moment ago about this, did the president know about this payment? And the White House isn’t answering. Sarah Sanders basically said, “Look, we’ve covered this over and over.” Clearly she’s covered it the way she wants to cover it. She doesn’t want to answer the question. Is that going to change?
Juana: I wouldn’t expect that we’ll hear any different from White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders, when we hear from her at the podium later today. That’s kind of the line she’s decided to take. Though we would note that that particular question has not been asked and answered. What I do think will be interesting is, when you have Avenatti out there in the press on every network, including ours, coming out here and kind of publicly jabbing at the president, even with this deposition, which is clearly a move to kind of push the president to respond, will he become so irritated and so enraged by all of this bubbling up that he comes out on Twitter and says something? That’s something that I’m just not sure about.
Brianna: Juana, thank you so much. Page, really appreciate it.