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Cohen to be Sentenced; Shutdown over Wall; Marriott Data Breach; Russian Spy is Political Prisoner. Aired 9:30-10a ET

Aired December 12, 2018 - 09:30   ET



[09:31:12] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: All right, welcome back.

In just over an hour, President Trump's former fixer, Michael Cohen, could be handed a significant prison sentence in connection with the Russia investigation. In August, Cohen pleaded guilty to two campaign finance violations. He also pleaded guilty just last month to lying to Congress.

My next guest is a member of the House Intelligence Committee and was there when Cohen testified before her committee. With me now is Democratic Congresswoman Jackie Speier of California.

Good morning. Thank you for being with me.

Congresswoman, Michael Cohen with get his sentence in just about an hour and a half. Do you have reason to believe that he lied to your committee about anything other than the extent of and timeframe of the proposed Trump Tower project in Moscow?

REP. JACKIE SPEIER (D), CALIFORNIA: We have reason to believe that he lied, not just about the Trump Tower in Moscow. But again, until we take control of that committee and can do the kind of investigative work that the American people would expect us to do by subpoenaing documents and then reviewing the documents as compared to their testimony, we won't know the extent to which he lied.

But if you lie once, you lie again. So I'm confident that we're going to find out that a number of people were not truthful to us.

HARLOW: You recently said that you believe Donald Trump Junior lied to your committee about two things. You said that last week on our air. What else do you believe Donald Trump Junior lied about? And when and how did you realize that, in your opinion, he lied at least two times under oath to your committee?

SPEIER: What's interesting about the testimony we've received from so many of the persons in the Trump orbit, when I first listened to their interviews and they swore under oath, I presumed that they were at least going to be telling the truth. And then it became obvious to me that that is not necessarily a part --

HARLOW: But specifically with Donald Trump Junior, because you've said on CNN --

SPEIER: I'm not going to tell you, Poppy, I'm not going to tell you specifically what I think he lied about until we have the opportunity to actually question him again and subpoena the documents that we never received from him.

HARLOW: And you've made very clear that you plan to, when Democrats take control, to subpoena not only him again and related documents, but Jared Kushner, if he and Jared Kushner will not appear voluntarily.

What is your most important question for each of them? Let's start with Donald Trump Junior.

SPEIER: So Donald Trump Junior will have to answer about the blocked call that was made by his phone to a party who I believe was probably the president after that meeting he had with a number of Russian operatives. He has been very unwilling to be truthful about that. And I think once we are able to access those phone records, we'll find out that he made a call to his father.

HARLOW: And what's your most pressing question for Jared Kushner should he appear again before your committee?

SPEIER: I think what we will want to hear from Jared Kushner is the extent to which he was in communication through third parties with WikiLeaks and how they used the opportunity to coordinate the dump of documents and the various ways that they pushed out their message via e-mails and Twitter.

HARLOW: The incoming chair of the House Judiciary Committee, Jerry Nadler, said something that got a lot of people talking on Sunday when he was speaking with Jake Tapper. And he said, yes, I believe impeachable offenses exist by the president, but just because they're impeachable offenses doesn't mean you impeach. And asked to explain that, he said, you have to look at how important they were, do they rise to the gravity where you should undertake an impeachment.

[09:35:07] Do you agree with him?

SPEIER: I do agree with him. We're not going to bring this country to a screeching halt without having specific, legal violations that have taken place by the president. Once those have been exposed or identified, then impeachment would be appropriate. But we have to also recognize that you have to be able to get to be successful, not just in the House but in the Senate in terms of trying an individual.

HARLOW: Sure. Sure. And getting two-thirds in the Senate.

Look, we all saw what played out in the Oval Office yesterday and the spectacle that it was over keeping the government open and running and working for the American taxpayer. Democrats are sticking to their $1.6 billion for border security. The president wants five. Neither side is budging at this point.

In January, you said, and I quote, I would be willing to give the president a high tech wall, willing to give him some amount of money to build that wall to a certain degree, that was in exchange for relief for DACA recipients. Right now, a, congresswoman, how much are you willing to give? Is it more than $1.6 billion? And, b, would you say to Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi, look, we have to give more here?

SPEIER: So I'm willing to negotiate a certain amount of money if we can make sure that the 800,000 to one million DACA eligible individuals in this country get a pathway to citizenship. I think their lives are worth that. This is the only country they've ever known. And when I say a high tech wall, I'm talking about using high tech kinds of instrumentalities because it needs to be effective. And building a wall is not effective. And, frankly what the president doesn't appreciate is, you're going to be taking a lot of Republican farmland away from various owners of farmland if you're going to try and build a wall.

So I think that's all subject to negotiation. We have to be willing to negotiate. I do not want to see the government shut down.

HARLOW: OK. OK. So help me out quickly before we go with a number here. You say negotiate, give a little more than $1.6 billion, what should Democrats give? What would you give?

SPEIER: I think -- what would I give? I'd give probably $2.5 billion.

HARLOW: All right.

SPEIER: I would go that far, if we could get all of those DACA recipients on a pathway to citizen.

HARLOW: You'd meet the president halfway if he meets you on DACA.

SPEIER: That's correct.

HARLOW: Appreciate your time. Congresswoman Jackie Speier, thanks so much.

SPEIER: Thank you.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Interesting interview, no question.

HARLOW: It's a little bit more. We'll see.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Yes, it is an open question, though, because even the president has sent signals about coming down on that figure. And if the Democrats come up --

HARLOW: But yesterday there was no -- no meeting.

SCIUTTO: I know. Although, you hear that afterwards there were phone calls exchanged, messages exchanged about possible compromise.

HARLOW: We'll see.

SCIUTTO: Maybe out of the jaws of defeat. We'll see. Nearly half a billion people may have been impacted by a data breach at Marriott hotels. And we now know who have may been behind that attacks. It's an important story, and it's coming up.


[09:42:20] SCIUTTO: Listen to this, because it's important. "The New York Times" is reporting that Chinese spies are responsible for hacking Marriott hotels, exposing sensitive information for, and listen to this number, 500 million, that's half a billion, guests. Marriott revealed the hack into its guest reservation system late last month, and that system includes a whole host of important information, including passport information.

HARLOW: Absolutely. But the question, when we found out about this, was who's responsible. Well, this morning "The New York Times" says it has an answer. Their sources say the hackers were working for China's communist controlled civilian spy agency. This is part of a much broader Chinese spy campaign that hacked health insurers, millions of Americans security clearance files. The goal, amass tons of personal information on tons of you, American citizens.


HARLOW: Part of the reporting team that broke the story, David Sanger of "The New York Times," is with us now.

An important story. Good morning to you, David.

Walk us through how extensive this hacking effort is and just the big picture connection here, the web that China is trying to build.

DAVID SANGER, CNN POLITICAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, what's fascinating about this, Poppy, is it does not look as if it had anything to do with stealing your credit card information or anything like that. It was an intelligence gathering operation and it started in or at least the earliest traces we can find of it are 2014.

Now, that -- if that sounds familiar, that's about when the Anthem insurance hack happened and when the attack on the Office of Personnel Management, which resulted in the loss of about 21 million security clearance files for people who had been applying for federal government security clearances. So everything from soldiers, to federal workers who need secret or top secret clearance. And it's very detailed information.

So if you put these together, what you get is the picture of a Chinese intelligence operation that was picking up fundamental data about government officials, travel data from Marriott and we believe other hotel groups and so forth, medical data from Anthem and other health care groups that were hacked, and using big data. You can amass that all together to get down to the few million or the few hundred thousand or just the few thousand people you really care about.


HARLOW: Yes. Yes.

SCIUTTO: It's a great way to build a profile, particularly of people you suspect might be spies for the U.S. abroad. This is a story I've been following closely because, sadly, I've been a victim of all three of those hacks.


SCIUTTO: This is life in the 21st century.



SCIUTTO: Let me ask you this, as I often remind people, this hacking is not bad behavior by elements in China. This is government policy directed by the government to Chinese interests. Why would China stop this as the part -- as a part of any trade negotiations with the U.S. when China views it as very much in its national interest, even if it's very much against the law?

[09:45:19] SANGER: Well, it's a great question, Jim, and as you know from your reporting time down here, even the United States conducts hacks like this if the view is that it's purely for an intelligence purpose. And that's how the Chinese view this. They weren't stealing this data to build a better hotel system. They weren't doing it to get the designs of an airplane. They were doing it for pure intelligence.

And, you may remember, Jim, that moment when James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, a CNN contributor, when in office said, if we could have done it, we would have, too.

HARLOW: I remember that. Yes.

SANGER: He was referring to the OPM hack.


SANGER: But he would have said, I think, and you can ask him the next time he's on the air, I think he probably would have said it about hotel data, because I'm certain that U.S. intelligence agencies go after hotel data to figure out where people are staying. And one of the most useful things in the Marriott hack is that we think about 330, 340 million passport pages were taken.

HARLOW: Right.

SANGER: And, of course, that helps you track people.

HARLOW: Geez. Of course.

SCIUTTO: Yes, pictures, personal information and where you travel.

SANGER: That's right.

HARLOW: Yes. David Sanger, it's such an important piece. Everyone should read it.


HARLOW: And what's the president going to say to Xi as they have these trade negotiations going on about this.

SCIUTTO: And, remember, President Obama famously got what he considered a commitment from Xi to stop or curtail this.

HARLOW: That's right.

SCIUTTO: It's still going on.

HARLOW: No, didn't happen.

SCIUTTO: A huge manhunt is underway in France now for a gunmen who opened fire on holiday shoppers near a packed Christmas market. Two people were killed, 14 others hurt in yesterday's attack in Strasbourg. A prosecutor says the assailant shouted "allah akbar" before getting in a shootout with police and fleeing in a stolen taxi. He got away.

The suspect has been identified as Cherif C, a man with convictions all over Europe, mostly for robbery. Police have put a perimeter around the city, secured the border, to try and hunt him down. A remarkable story there.


SCIUTTO: One we're going to continue to follow.

HARLOW: All right, coming up, a CNN exclusive. The Russian government unleashes shocking new claims. They say alleged spy Maria Butina was tortured in U.S. custody. Where's the evidence of that? Ahead.


[09:51:56] HARLOW: All right, now to exclusive reporting this morning. The Russian foreign ministry unleashes a shocking, unsubstantiated claim, and they're suggesting that the accused spy, Maria Butina, was tortured while in U.S. custody.

SCIUTTO: Yes, Russia is good at this, putting out what are actually fake news stories as part of influence operations.

CNN's senior international correspondent Frederik Pleitgen spoke with the spokeswoman for Russia's foreign ministry. He's joining us now from Moscow.

So quite an aggressive propaganda campaign, I supposed you could call it here, coming from Russia.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Yes, it was. It was quite aggressive. We sat down -- or we stood up, really, for an interview with Maria Zakharova to ask her specifically about this case because, you know, the Russian foreign ministry has been really very strong on this. They've even made their sort of Twitter picture into a picture of Maria Butina, really championing this case.

And when we asked them what they thought about this most recent plea agreement that she apparently -- where she was going to admit to at least one of the charges against her, Maria Zakharova absolutely unleashed. Here's what she had to say.


MARIA ZAKHAROVA, SPOKESWOMAN, RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTRY: We indicated her as a political prisoner from the very first days because it's not about -- it's not about justice. It's not justice. It's just inquisition. It's medieval inquisition because she is intimidated. She was tortured and she was treated not like a human being, not like a woman. I think she was treated and still is treated probably as a terrorist or something like that.


PLEITGEN: So there you have some pretty strong allegations, intimidation, even torture, obviously. We really haven't seen anything so far to substantiate any of that.

But I did ask Maria Zakharova what exactly she meant when she, for instance, talked about torture in U.S. custody, because that is such a very, very strong allegation. And she said some of it stemmed from what she said that Maria Butina apparently has very little time to herself, only has about two hours of the day where she can contact her parents and also apparently has guards every once in a while coming into the cell and checking on her. She also claimed that Ms. Butina wasn't getting adequate medical attention, either.

Again, I really haven't seen anything to substantiate that, but it certainly does show that the Russians very, very angry about this whole case and, of course, saying that they believe that she's a political prisoner. It was interesting because in another part of our interview she said that she believed that the timing of Maria Butina's arrest was made specifically by the United States to try and derail the then summit between Vladimir Putin and President Trump in Helsinki. So another really strong allegation there as the Russians, of course, are bracing for what's going to be that plea agreement that we're probably going to see tomorrow from Ms. Butina. Again, they're saying that she does say that she is guilty of at least one of the charges of possibly being an agent inside the United States, guys.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Well, listen, I mean in Russia, political dissidents are murdered.


SCIUTTO: Russia used a nerve agent to attempt to kill someone in the U.K. --

HARLOW: And ended up killing. Right. SCIUTTO: And radioactive plutonium. Killed another dissident.

HARLOW: Right.

SCIUTTO: So I think rich is the word.

[09:55:01] Frederik Pleitgen, thanks very much.

HARLOW: Thank you.

SCIUTTO: Still ahead, new video of the president's former fixer, Michael Cohen, leaving his apartment. This ahead of his sentencing. A difficult day for him, for his family. Stay with us. We're going to be watching.


HARLOW: All right, top of the hour. Good morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow in New York.

SCIUTTO: And I'm Jim Sciutto.

[09:59:48] In a different world, Michael Cohen might have been the incoming White House Chief of Staff that President Trump is once again searching for. Instead, he has made the very unhappy trek from his apartment to the New York federal courthouse where just one hour from now the president's long time lawyer, long time fixer, is due to be sentenced.