Matthew Dowd: President Trump's argument that Cohen's a liar 'kind of ironic'

The Powerhouse Roundtable discusses the week in politics and reflects on the legacy of former President George H.W. Bush.
15:55 | 12/02/18

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Transcript for Matthew Dowd: President Trump's argument that Cohen's a liar 'kind of ironic'
Go back and look at the paper that Michael Cohen wrote before he testified in the house and/or senate. It talked about his position. He's a weak person. And not a very smart person. He's got himself a big prison sentence. He's trying to get a much lesser prison sentence by making up a story. Now, here's the thing. Even if he was right, it doesn't matter. Because I was allowed to do whatever I wanted during the campaign. President trump on that plea deal on Thursday. We're going to talk about it on our "Roundtable." Joined by cokie Roberts. Chief political analyst Matthew dowd. Co-host of "The view" Meghan McCain. Former New Jersey governor Chris Christie. And Donna Brazile. Former DNC chair. Chris, let me begin with you. We heard Adam Schiff. Let's take a step back. It does appear that Robert Mueller is methodically building a case that has the president right at the center. Well, listen. What I've said all along is Bob Mueller is a traditional prosecutor. He's a killer. That's who he is. I think everything you have seen him do so far is traditional. As you put it. Methodical prosecuting. You work yourself up the chain. You bring charges when they're ready to be brought. And you don't talk. And the true power of Bob Mueller or any prosecutor is the secrecy of that process and that no one knows. And no one knows. I think that is part of also why we go overboard a little bit. By the nature of the coverage. I don't think the Michael Cohen plea in and of itself this week was all that significant, except for the fact that he wanted to make sure that Michael Cohen understood -- How about the point Adam Schiff was just making. That the president, if he's denying any business dealings at all with Russia, at a time he's pursuing a deal leaves him vulnerable to blackmail and compromise? You already had that. The idea that congressman Schiff, who is consistently wrong on this stuff, saying he needed to do a plea to lock him in. Once you give an interview with the FBI agent with the threat of 1,001, you're not more locked in with a plea. I think he did it because he wanted to get it public. Because he wanted to show another one of his cards. That's why he did the Michael Cohen thing. Locking him in, Michael Cohen is locked in already. If he goes contrary to what he told Bob Mueller, he'll face consequences. But mu Mueller has public opinion to think about. He's been working in secret. He's gone down in the polls because of the president's constant attack. If he shows us there is somebody that has the goods. And this is something serious for the president, that puts him in a stronger position. One of the things he shows, whether it's Michael Cohen, Michael Flynn, George ppapadopoulos, Jerome Corsi, it seems anyone around president trump on the Russia subject is not telling the truth. Michael Cohen said he would take a bullet for Donald Trump. This week, he delivered the smoking gun. Oh, yeah. That's the smoking gun. Because once again, he said, what I provided before was consistent with what the president wanted me to say because I wanted to stay loyal to the president. Smoking gun saying, he said essentially that the white house, the president was lying at the time that he had no business dealing with Russia when he was looking to strike a deal with Russia on a tower. And the president seems so -- I have a problem with what you just said. Sorry. Is that when the media treats every news bit like it's a smoking gun, it means nothing is a smoking gun. Roblem is, all of these -- I call them marvel villain actors. Really bad guys from day one. From far before they met president trump. I think when you're talking about people like Paul manafort and Michael Cohen. Oh, he's really bad guy. The question I have doesn't have anything to do with the investigation. We don't know. I go back to the question I posed before. I'll bring it to you, Matt. If Michael Cohen is now telling the truth, that the discussions about the trump tower in Moscow persisted through June of 2016, when the president was completely denying it, it does make the president vulnerable to blackmail. I think it not only makes him vulnerable to blackmail. And I don't know if there's a legal question. Bob Mueller will answer that question. It raises ethical gets. Legitimacy questions. Of a president who hid this during the course of the campaign. Could have impacted the GOP primary process. Could have impacted the general election. He hid a series of deals and payments he was making with women that allegedly slept with him. In the course of that. So it raises these concerns. I would add to what Meghan said. Which is, they are like marvel villains. It's like "The sopranos" meets "One flew over the cuckoo's nest" and they're all sitting at the "Star wars" bar. I would give one thing to Bob Mueller. Look back at the investigations. Independent counsels. Special counsels. And all of that. He's had over 33 indictments and guilty pleas. More guilty pleas and more indictments than any investigation that we have seen since watergate. There's more than just smoke. It's a ton of fire. The ultimate question is, is the president impacted about this? We don't know the answer. The president also hasn't said that Cohen is lying. He did call him a liar. He did this defense of him doing business. It implies he's telling the truth. And, again, but that doesn't have anything to do with the president's potential criminal liability at all. It's about what Cohen said this week. I'm falling down shocked that Michael Cohen lied. Step away -- take a step away from the criminal liability. Doesn't it bother you at all that a candidate for president is pursuing deal with the Russians at a time he's praising the Russians and looking to release sanctions and not telling the country about it. I think there should be openness about everything when you're running for president. So that people can make that evaluation of you as a complete person. So I absolutely agree with that. I'm trying to not justify anybody being on the campaign trail running for president of the United States and not telling the complete truth. It doesn't mean that what Michael Cohen said, with all due respect to my friend here, is a smoking gun. It's a smoking gun to the fact that people lie in politics. The next thing we talk about is the smoking gun about the sun coming up. I think there's a difference between Normal Republican campaigns. If I -- I was a candidate's daughter. If a Russian spy had come to me and wanted a private meeting, I would have screamed bloody murder. And probably called the FBI. Called the FBI right. So the ethical questions you brought up. If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, there's probably something here. I don't agree Michael Cohen is necessarily the smoking gun. It looks like the candidate's son in this situation is very much involved. And I think that that gets to the president. I made these misstatements to be consistent with individual -- political messages and out of loyalty to individual one. That's what Michael Cohen. That's what he's saying is his motivation. Let's make a distinction between that and being instructed to do that. Those are two different things. Michael Cohen didn't say -- that's a big distinction. If Bob Mueller could have gotten him to say he was instructed by the president to do that, he would have said it. He said I was being consistent with the president's messaging. And let me tell you something. Lots of campaign operatives over time have done things they thought was consistent with the candidate's messaging and they were wrong. I think -- I think -- I think -- I think -- Wikileaks and Roger stone. There is distinct differences. Sorry to interrupt you. You can attest to this. I think the country is coming to a conclusion about the ethics of this president and whether or not this president tells the truth. They know that. More than two-thirds of the country doesn't think he's honest. I think it's ironic that the president and his people are making the argument that you can't believe Michael Cohen because he's a liar when we have seen this president, I think it's up to 6800 times in the course of his presidency. The country absorbs the news. They're at this point in time, we had an important midterm election. A key point in this process. The Democrats have the house. They're going to hold public hearings on a lot of issues. This being one of them. And everybody is waiting on the Mueller report. Until we see the public hearings, where people have to testify in public, we have the Mueller report. We're going to continue to have the conversation until the public sees that. That's true. All along, I have said we need to let Bob Mueller do his investigation. And see what the results are. My objection to this week was that it was breathless about something that to me was a nonstory. Nonstory or nonsmoking gun? Listen. Nonstory from the perspective of guilt or innocence of anything the president did or didn't do on the legal front. I'm looking at this as a prosecutor. Not a political analyst. Mueller did what he wanted to do. I think cokie is right. He's concerned about public opinion. And that's why I said earlier -- he played another card. I'm looking at it from the perspective of the integrity of our election process. Just yesterday, general Mattis said the Russians tried to muck in our election in 2018. This time. This time. There are two remaining chapters. One of them is, who conspired with the Russians who stole the DNC e-mails and Mr. Podesta's e-mails to leak them, put them out. Distribute them. That's the collusion. The conspiring. Whatever you want to call it from the legal perspective. The other thing is who is trying to obstruct this investigation? I mean, I think Mr. Mueller still has a lot to say. I hope that the senate will protect him so he can finish his job. By the way, there's no -- I'm willing to bet you there is no chance that this president tries to fire Bob Mueller. If he hasn't done it already, he's not going to do it now. He's not going to do it when you have a democratic house. He's trying to undermine. Listen, in the Clinton administration -- the Clinton administration attended to undermine Ken Starr. Of course they did. That's part of the political game. That gets played here. I agree with Chris. We have already seen what the president has done for a year and half has had no effect. Actually, I think it's been detrimental to the president in what happened in the midterms. In the end, I agree with Chris. Bob Mueller will give his report. I think the only question is how much of the report becomes public? The Democrats on the house will make sure -- He's making it public through the indictments. It's not insignificant that Matt Whitaker did allow the plea deal to go through. He doesn't appear to have interfered. By law, Matt Whitaker is a temporary attorney general. He cannot, under the vacancy act, be nominated by the president to be attorney general now that he's been made acting. He's temporary. Bob Mueller knows that, too. He knows this is not a guy he'll be answering to for a long time. So, all of those dynamics will let Bob Mueller be as independent as he wants to be. Let's talk about president bush. Cokie Roberts. I saw him last at the end of August. He had wonderful spirits about him still. His speaking was not as easy as it once was. I said to him, I understand that you want to jump out of a plane on your 95th birthday. And he said, yes. His wonderful aide, Jean Becker who has been with him so long, said to him, well, you know, your landing didn't go so well the last time. He said, why emphasize that? But what a special person. What a patriot. What a person of service to this country. And of just -- incredible decency. You worked for his son? I did. I did work for his son. I worked for Lloyd Bentsen who bead him in 1970. When he ran for the senate race. And Lloyd lost in 1988 as vice president in Texas in that time. I think that is the common word you hear in this. Decency. He was a decent person. A good person. A kind person. To me, he's almost like the Forrest gump of the last 50 years of this century. He was almost at every single moment of change in the country. The soviet union. World War II. The CIA. The U.N. The wars. His son. Which he had a tremendous impact on. One thing I would like to say is I think often in these times when we have these deaths, we're way too quick to canonize these people. George Herbert walker bush was a great man. He was human. He made mistakes. He was humble enough to admit it. There was a series of things along the way, you can point sometimes in his political campaigns. George Bush was a good man. He was somebody that used brass knuckles in a political campaign. He did the Willie Horton ad. He did certain things in political campaigns. There's questions about him on iran/contra. He's a good man. I think it's a good lesson to learn, let's not canonize these people. Or define them by any one incident. Let's make them human beings that do good things and are good people. The truth is, it's more admirable -- I always say this about the founding fathers. It's more admirable to be human than to be a bronze statue. Because it's easy for bronze statues to do good things. It's hard for humans. He had faults. On the '64 civil rights act, he opposed. One of the reasons I opposed George Bush fiercely was because he was not a champion at that time. In other ways, he did support civil rights by the appointment of people like -- Colin Powell. And condoleezza rice. So many others. Barbara Bush and George Bush gave money to the united Negro college fund. She served on the board of Morehouse. And during hurricane Katrina, and I can get emotional about this, he joined with bill Clinton to help us rebuild my gulf coast. I got fired from the dukakis campaign because I opened my big mouth and do what I do. Tell people how I feel. He reached out. I reached out. We became friends. I got a chance to go down to the bush library. He was a human being. With flaws, but somebody who was a man. And I liked that about him. Great protector of the institutions of our country. And I think what he'll be remembered for more than anything else is that he was at the vanguard during some very difficult times. You know, whether it was during watergate and coming back in the post watergate era and coming back to run the CIA. Felt it was his duty to do that. To try to restore honor and dut duty to that institution. To later on when he was defeated. We know how heart wrenching that was. The note he wrote to president Clinton on the way out the door tells you that he believes in those institutions. And his desire to invite president trump and the first lady to his memorial service is another show to the respect of the institutions. And it's a good moment, I think just like Meghan's father passing away. It's a great moment for the individuals to reflect on who we are. Beautiful love story between him and our first lady. Deeply in love up until the very end. The last combat veteran to hold the presidency. Seems to sadly bg of an era. For that being something that we pretty much demanded of our presidents. Just such a lovely man on so many different levels. I agree. It feels like another passing of an era. We're going to celebrate him all week long. The national cathedral, national day of mourning on Wednesday. And right now, we'll honor our fellow Americans who serve and sacrifice today. In the month of November five service members died in Afghanistan. ?????? That is all for us today. Thank you for sharing part of your Sunday with us. As I said, please join us Wednesday morning when I'll be anchoring our special coverage of the state funeral for

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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