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Lawyer: Michael Cohen is Giving Info to Mueller's Investigation; Obama Back on the Campaign Trail; "This is Life" Premieres Sunday after "Parts Unknown". Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired September 21, 2018 - 10:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[10:30:00]

ERICA ORDEN, CNN REPORTER: They could have discussed topics of interest in particular to the southern district prosecutors, who are continuing to investigate possible campaign finance violations at Trumps works.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Two very important lines of inquiry that they still opened there, the New York case where Flynn has already pleaded guilty. That speaks to a campaign violation. Did Cohen accuse the president of being a co-conspirator in effect?

ORDEN: Cohen pleaded guilty to eight charges. Some of them were campaign finance violations in which during his allocution in court he did identify that he was directed to make some of these payments or cause some of these payments to be made by as he referred to by the candidate, the person who is a presidential candidate in 2016 and that was, of course, Donald Trump.

SCIUTTO: Erica Orden, thank you very much, lots of investigations still underway.

Here with me to discuss, CNN legal analyst and former federal prosecutor Shan Wu. The president's attorneys are saying they're not worried about this. But now have you Cohen speaking not just to the special counsel but he's also accused the president, in effect, of directing him to commit a federal crime. Should the president's legal team be worried?

SHAN WU, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I think they should be very worried. They might have had some re-assurances earlier in the game before this all happened with Cohen. But at this point, somebody like him who's so close knows everything that's happened, it's a danger not only on the campaign finance issues but also on the from of the Trump organization, itself.

SCIUTTO: How key a witness would Michael Cohen be to Robert Mueller on his two main lines of inquiry, one, being obstruction of justice and the other being this question of whether there was campaign collusion with Russians during the election?

WU: Much stronger on the first perhaps, than the second. On the second, we just don't know what kind of details he knows about the collusion possibility. But on the obstruction - I mean, frankly, from a lay person's point of view, not putting on my prosecutor's cap, even when you hear that tape, it kind of sounds like he's looking to enter fear with the system in terms of the money payments and such. So I think it's very dangerous on that point.

And you know, one thing that's interesting is many former prosecutors were saying that he didn't have to have a written cooperation agreement. That's more for the protection of him. To make sure there's some promise to him. They may even have said hey, we'll cooperate without something written just as a show of good faith because they really want to get a break on the sense.

SCIUTTO: And that could still happen. If he provides information that's useful, Robert Mueller could turn around and say to the court he's helped us out here, cut him some slack, right?

WU: Absolutely.

SCIUTTO: OK. So the other person cooperating now, and this again, the things are moving so fast, this was news you know Paul Manafort. He has agreed to cooperate with Mueller investigation as well. Of course, he was a campaign chairman for a number of months during 2016. President Trump asked about Manafort said that he doesn't see a problem as long as he tells the truth. Do you buy that confidence?

WU: I don't. I think Manafort's as dangerous for the president as is his White House Counsel McGahn. They are both right with them in terms of the collusion issues. I mean they're both well placed to hear his musings. His thoughts about what's going on. That's what's really dangerous for the president is that Manafort was there during the campaign, any offer of any information he would have discussed with him. He's in a position to know. That's why it's so dangerous for him.

SCIUTTO: A big parlor game in Washington now is when is Mueller going to wrap up and the Mueller investigation from the beginning has truly been a black box. It does not leak but based on these moves that we see happening, moves that he's making, witnesses that he's talking to, et cetera, as an experienced prosecutor, do you see evidence that he's close to a conclusion here?

WU: I think he is moving towards a conclusion. There is the added political issue of the midterms. He probably will quiet down during that time. But I think what's very ominous for the president is this whole kind of surrounding ring of people close to him cooperating. Now Mueller does potentially have the information he needs to make the decision about obstruction.

SCIUTTO: Understood, we're going to be watching closely. Shan Wu, thanks very much, as always.

Coming up next, I.C.E. arresting dozens of undocumented immigrants who came forward to take care of children in government custody, we're going to discuss that story right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[10:38:55] SCIUTTO: There are new fears today for immigrants and those who may try to help. Dozens of undocumented immigrants are now behind bars after trying to come forward as sponsors for immigrant children.

CNN reporter Tal Kopan is here with the details. Tal, these arrests come after a recent move by the Trump administration to increase the vetting for potential sponsors for children. But what is now happening to them?

TAL KOPAN, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: That's right, Jim. So just a little bit of background, these are immigrant children, undocumented, who are in the U.S. by themselves. Either they came here by themselves or they were separated from an adult at the border. The only way those children come out of attention is if an adult comes forward and says I can take care of this child, often a family member. Many of those adults are undocumented themselves. But there was this concern that children could end up with traffickers. So an agreement was designed to do more background checking and finger printing. But the catch is, that agreement was signed with I.C.E.

And now, we have confirmation that I.C.E. has arrested people for being in the country illegally, and not for other crimes, just for being here illegally. After they came forward to take care of these children and we actually had this from Matthew Albence who's a director of enforcement and deportation for I.C.E., himself. He said this the other day let's take a listen. I believe we have that.

[10:40:07] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEW ALBENCE, EXECUTIVE ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR, ICE ENFORCEMENT AND REMOVAL OPERATIONS: We've arrested 41 individuals thus far that we've identified pursuant to that MOA. Our data that we've received thus far indicates that close to 80 percent of the individuals that are either sponsors or household members of sponsors are here in the country illegally and a large chunk of those are criminal aliens. So we continue to pursue those individuals.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KOPAN: So that 41 he was just talking about, an I.C.E. official told me 70 percent of that 41 were non-criminal arrests. They were solely on immigration status.

SCIUTTO: Is there concern here that I.C.E. was in effect using that as bait, but right as a way to capture?

KOPAN: There is absolutely concern. And this has been advocate's fear from the beginning of the announcement that they would do more vetting of the sponsors. In the past, HHS has not considered a person's immigration status in terms of whether you are suitable to take care of a child. They place the child welfare first.

Now, the potential consequences of this are having far more children, when we're already at record levels, far more children kept in these detention centers or custody centers, and a fear of their family members to come forward and care for them because they may, in fact, be arrested for being here illegally. So that is the concern now, that you are sort of trapped in this double situation.

SCIUTTO: And then, of course the kids remain in custody. Tal Kopan, thanks very much, great reporting.

President Obama, back on the campaign trail today in Pennsylvania. Why President Trump says that's a good thing for Republicans.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[10:46:07] SCIUTTO: Former President Obama is back on the campaign trail today headed to Pennsylvania, while Democrats are banking on Obama to raise enthusiasm heading into the midterms, President Trump has a very different take on Obama's return to the spotlight. Have a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We've created more than 400,000 manufacturing jobs. Remember when President Obama said you can't have manufacturing jobs anymore? By the way, he's campaigning again. That's good news.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCIUTTO: Joining me now is CNN senior political writer and analyst, Harry Enten. Thanks very much. So Barack Obama is back on the campaign trail is that necessarily good for Democrats? I mean, is he a real motivator for Democratic voters today?

HARRY ENTEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL WRITER AND ANALYST: I'm not sure if he's a real motivator. But he's certainly not bad news for Democrats. Look at President Obama's recent numbers, his favorable rating is well into the 60s, about 20 to 25 points higher than President Donald Trump's on favorable rating. So, he's certainly not a negative.

Now, I'm always kind of hesitant to say that someone's going to vote for somebody else, because someone came in and endorsed that candidate. But I think especially among young voters and African Americans, President Obama appearance could help drive up turn out at least a little be it.

SCIUTTO: So, you look at those states we just put up the map, the places where he is campaigning, we could show it again, California, Illinois, Pennsylvania and Ohio. Why those four states?

ENTEN: Look, those are all races that are -- states that have tight congressional races in them. They are all states where he did particularly well at least compared to the average Democrat. So I think that Democrats are going to be strategic about where they place Obama and make sure that he's reaching out to voters who actually like him as opposed to say putting him in the south where his numbers were always quite poor.

SCIUTTO: So let's talk about the south because one race there that Democrats certainly have their eyes on is Texas. You got Ted Cruz, Beto O'Rourke. There is a big debate tonight. You know whenever I see this as well the Democrats could flip this one. I think in 2016 when Hillary was campaigning in Texas, and there was talk, then of course, it was a blowout there. Is it a real chance for Democrats to take that seat?

ENTEN: Yes. I mean, I'll say two things. Number one, if liberal hopes could help determine a winner, then Beto O'Rourke would be ahead by 55 points this point. But the other thing now I would point out is that there is some polling that indicates that O'Rourke is closer than you might expect. Yes, there was that Quinnipiac Poll earlier this week that had cruised up by nearly double digits. But the average polling suggests some much tighter race. So to me, I would say, look, Cruz is the favorite, O'Rourke still has a shot of winning, but Texas is Texas. And Cruz is most likely going to pull out the victory.

SCIUTTO: Let me ask you this, on the generic ballot, that number we're always watching a preference for Democrats over Republicans on the generic ballot. Is there a marker there that makes a race like this competitive? Oftentimes, I'll hear smart folks like you say, that well if it's a 10 percent difference they can turn some of the race, is that relevant to a race like this or is it really more local?

ENTEN: I mean it's both, right? I mean Senate races are more local than House races are, believe it or not. But if I were to pick a specific number, I'd probably say that Democrats need to be winning on the generic ballot by about 11 or 12 points nationally for O'Rourke really to have a shot at winning. And right now the Democratic lead in the average of polls is closer to around 9 percentage points. So it's a little bit below the threshold that O'Rourke needs to pull out the victory in Texas.

SCIUTTO: OK. Let's talk about President Trump and Ted Cruz, not the friendliest of friends in the past. Let's show our viewers for a reminder.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Cruz doesn't have it. He will never be good as what he does.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R), TEXAS: Donald doesn't like strong women. Strong women scare them. Real men don't try to bully women. It's an action of a small and petty man who is intimidated by strong women.

TRUMP: He doesn't have one Republican senator backing you, not one.

[10:50:02] You don't have the endorsement of one Republican senator. And you work with these people. You should be ashamed of yourself.

You are you all talk and no action.

What I seen up, here, I mean, first of all, this guy is a joke artist and this guy is a liar.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCIUTTO: Of course, there was the time that Trump also accused Ted Cruz' father of being involved in the Kennedy assassination. I'm not making that up. But now they seem to have put those differences aside. Can Trump help? Is he helping Cruz in Texas? ENTEN: Well, I'll say politics makes for strange bed fellows, that for sure. I mean look, Trump's numbers, in fact, really aren't that good, in fact, if you look at that Quinnipiac Poll that was out earlier, that had Cruz ahead, Trump's net approval rating was exactly zero, I believe, or maybe was plus one or minus one. So I don't really think that Trump is a real help to Cruz in Texas. That being said, Cruz recognizes that he needs a good Republican turnout and Trump is still quite popular with the Republican base.

SCIUTTO: Harry Enten, thanks for making us smarter.

ENTEN: I do try.

SCIUTTO: President Trump on the air this morning, attacking Christine Blasey Ford's choice to come forward 36 years after the alleged assault.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[10:55:35] SCIUTTO: Welcome back. This Sunday, the CNN original series "This is Life" with Lisa Ling returns for an all new season. In the premier episode, Ling takes us to the front line to the battle against MS-13, one of the most feared street gangs in the country. Here's a preview.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LISA LING, CNN HOST, "THIS IS LIFE WITH LISA LING" (voice-over): Inside this suburban strip mall -

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There you go.

LING: One woman is trying to stay a step ahead of MS-13 by forging bonds of trust with young girls at risk of gang recruitment.

Her name is Emily. And she's a counsellor with the Street Outreach Network.

How do gangs like MS-13 try and recruit young kids?

EMILY: I think it's a lot younger and the target is definitely the incoming population from Central America. And some of them because they're fleeing violence, you know, seek refuge here but the refuge that they do find is within a gang. My young ladies tend to search on social media for likes or you know, some kind of affirmation of yes you are beautiful. So I think that they're very vulnerable to recruitment.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh my God, let me do it.

EMILY: Make sure you stay hydrated.

LING (on-camera): How would you define your role in these girl's lives?

EMILY: I would say I'm a mentor, first off. Don't forget the grand finale all right.

I'm not judging anything that they do in their lives. I'm very open to whoever they have to say. And so I kind of play that role of like, I'm going to listen to you. I'm not going to advocate for you. And so they tend to gravitate towards that.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCIUTTO: Lisa Ling the host of "This is Life" joins. Lisa, thanks so much of the fascinating kind of taste there of the series. MS-13, of course, very much in the political conversation here because the president often invokes their violence in his calls to reform immigration law crackdown on crime, just a big picture, how dangerous a gang is this? How big a threat to the country on the national level?

LING: So, you are right. The Trump administration would like to us believe that MS-13 is this transnational criminal enterprise, but the reality is that even though there are many of them, there are many members of MS-13, it's actually quite disorganized. And the FBI estimates there are over a million gangs in the United States and MS- 13 makes up less than 1 percent of that number. But their crimes are incredibly savage and horrific, and for the most part, it is a group of teens perpetrating crimes on other teenagers.

Are they a threat to our national security? I would say no but they are a threat to their own communities in places like Maryland and Virginia and Boston and upstate New York and many of the kids that they are victimizing are unaccompanied minors, themselves. They've come to this country. They don't really have relationships with their family members because they have been apart from them torso long. They have witnessed horrific levels of violence in their home countries. And they become vulnerable to be prey for MS-13.

SCIUTTO: Is it that the president always makes a connection between that and says that there is - this is a growing problem because they come into the country, the members come into the country illegally. Is that accurate? Is that how the group expands?

LING: So since 2014, there have been over 100,000 unaccompanied minors who have shown up in the United States, and it's estimated that 0.2 percent of them have any gang ties. So it's not, it's just not fair to say that gang members are en masse trying to cross the border into the U.S.

SCIUTTO: Well listen, it's a fascinating series, Lisa Ling, thanks so much. "This is Life with Lisa Ling" and it premiers this Sunday night at 10:00 p.m. Eastern Time that's right after "Parts Unknown."

Thank you so much for joining us today. I'm Jim Sciutto. Poppy and I are going to be back on Monday. There is so much news. We hope you will join us then. "At this Hour" with my colleague Kate Bolduan starts right now.