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CNN NEWSROOM

Poll: Biden Leads Democrats for 2020 Presidential Race; Christie Turns Down Chief of Staff Position; Sen. Hatch Walks Back Statement on Trump Criminal Implications; Seth Waxman: "Collusion Is a Crime"; Prosecutors Investigating Trump's 2017 Inaugural Committee for Financial Abuse; Michael Cohen Unleashes on Trump During ABC Interview. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired December 14, 2018 - 14:30   ET

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


[14:30:00] VAN JONES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR & CNN HOST, "THE VAN JONES SHOW": I'm not going to just take Homeland Security's word for it, given the behavior of our folks down there.

ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR: Let's talk about 2020. We have a new CNN poll out and former Vice President Joe Biden leads the pack, dominating in this poll. But it is early.

You served in past administrations. Barack Obama wasn't even on --

(CROSSTALK)

JONES: Exactly. He was like an asterisk. Trump was at 2 percent or 3 percent. Joe Biden is one of the most beloved people in American life and he's got name recognition that's as high as can you get, unless your last name is Obama, in American politics. The shocking thing of Beto.

CABRERA: You think so?

JONES: Beto was an unknown six months ago for most people --

(CROSSTALK)

CABRERA: And has been pretty firm up until the last few weeks, no, I'm not running for president, no, I'm not running for president.

JONES: Beto just lost for Senate, how could you become president? That's exactly what Abraham Lincoln did. He was in Congress, he ran for Senate and lost and he ran for president and he won. So watching the rise of Beto is very, very interesting.

I think that there's -- the Democratic Party is torn. Do we want to go with the tried and true? We know that Joe Biden has a certain appeal, especially in the industrial heartland or we need a fresh face to inspire us and help us turn the page after four years of Donald Trump. I'm surprised Biden is not even higher.

CABRERA: Sanders was number two. Sanders and Elizabeth Warren met yesterday and, apparently, they met to talk about 20. If you were a fly on the wall, what do you think they were saying? JONES: I have not talked to Elizabeth Warren. I have talked to

Senator Sanders. He is authentically trying to figure out who has the best shot as a progressive. I think he would do it if he thought it was up to him and I think he also would step aside.

CABRERA: Is there room for both him and Warren?

JONES: No, I don't think so. Someone has to step aside. Bernie Sanders has been persistent and consistent around building movement around health care and other issues. He's never stopped campaigning. He's ready to go. If he truly believes Elizabeth could do it, I think he would step aside.

CABRERA: Chris Christie was meeting with the president last night, talking about the chief of staff position. Christie now saying he doesn't want the job. I'm not sure if that comes as a surprise to anybody, the fact that he isn't going to be the next chief of staff, given his history with Kushner. This was never going to work out, was it?

JONES: It's hard to imagine. Obviously, Chris Christie put Jared's father in prison. That's a hard way to start a relationship. That said, Chris Christie has been supportive of the administration's efforts to reform the prison system, they have been able to work on that. Who know what would happen? But honestly, I think it's like Lucy and the football. Chris Christie, oh, he's going to be the attorney general, the chief of staff. It's never going to happen. At some point, I hope he'll quit trying to quick that ball.

CABRERA: When you sat down, I felt blessed, in part, because of the criminal justice reform legislation, which we expect to vote on before Christmas.

JONES: Yes. The First Step Act would help a hundred thousand folks locked up in federal prisons would help them earn their way home sooner by taking classes and programs. It would help women behind bars. It has huge bipartisan support. I'm proud to have been a part of that.

CABRERA: Your show, tomorrow night, what can we anticipate on your show?

JONES: We have two rising stars in the Democratic Party, Kristen Gillibrand and Andrew Gillum, both talking about the country and their vision going forward. You'll probably hear from them in 2020, and beyond. You cannot pin them down ahead of time to predict what they're going to say about any topic. It's an amazing opportunity to hear from them.

CABRERA: I'm wondering how close they align on certain things that you ask. We'll have to wait and see.

JONES: You will see, you will see.

CABRERA: Tomorrow night at 7:00 p.m. on CNN on "THE VAN JONES SHOW."

Thank you so much, Van. Good to see you.

[14:34:13] Up next, a former federal prosecutor wants to help educate the president. His lesson for Donald Trump about why collusion is a crime.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CABRERA: Welcome back. We have a new statement from Republican Senator Orrin Hatch, walking back comments he made to CNN, initially reacting to the criminal implications against President Trump. Listen first to his original comments.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. ORRIN HATCH, (R), UTAH: I don't care. All I can say is he's doing a good job as president.

I don't think he was involved in crimes. But even then, you know, you can make anything a crime under the current laws. If you want to, you can blow it way out of proportion, you can do a lot of things.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CABRERA: So that was then. This is now. In the most recent statement Hatch said, "In an unplanned hall interview with CNN, I made comments that were irresponsible and a poor reflection on my lengthy record on my dedication to the rule of law." He goes on to say, "While I don't believe Michael Cohen is any kind of reliable voice in this process, I have expressed confidence in Bob Mueller and his investigation countless times, including writing in the 'Wall Street Journal,' that he must be allowed to complete his investigation." Hatch also says that while he has long believed the U.S. criminal code is too large, he wrote, "At a time when faith in so many of our institutions is an all-time low, I regret speaking imprudently. I don't believe the president broke the law but one of the core principles of our country is that no one is above that law, and that means anyone that does break the law should face appropriate consequences."

Joining us now, Seth Waxman, a former federal prosecutor under the Clinton, Bush and Obama administrations.

First, Seth, I want to get to your op-ed in just a moment, but I want to get your reaction to this new backtrack by Orrin Hatch.

[14:40:12] SETH WAXMAN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I'm glad to see him do that. His initial comments were troubling, a sitting Senator saying the president can act with impunity, whether that's breaking the law or not. For him to walk that back, it's not surprising. Hopefully, he'll wait to see the evidence, when he says Mr. Cohen isn't a credible witness, that may or may not be true but there's a lot of corroboration we're seeing on Mr. Cohen. There's an entire picture that needs to be developed before judgment is rendered. I'm glad to hear him say he wants to see the Mueller investigation to come to a conclusion before rendering judgment. CABRERA: Let's talk about the Mueller investigation. You just wrote

an opinion piece for CNN.com arguing collusion is, indeed, against the law. You write, "Collusion is a crime." You actually found that word in a federal statute. Explain.

WAXMAN: Yes. It sure is. We've been listening to the president for months since the inception of the investigation jumping up and down and his lawyers screaming collusion is not a crime, it's nowhere in the federal code. That's flatly not true. The federal code expressly makes collusion a crime. If President Trump or then-Candidate Trump accepted things of value, dirt on Hillary Clinton, help from the Russians building Trump Tower Moscow or anything else in exchange for an agreement with the Russians to collude to influence the 2016 election, that is expressly criminalized under a federal code. It's a 15-year maximum penalty and that's because the Department of Justice and Federal Election Commission has the responsibility to disclose to the American people any outside or foreign influence in the election to kind of keep things transparent. If Trump on the one hand colluded with the Russians on the other, to secretly influence the election without those agencies knowing, that is expressly a crime under the federal code.

CABRERA: So what does this mean for the president?

WAXMAN: It means he or any of his associates that knowingly participated in this collusion could be facing a 15-year federal bribery charge. When there's a bribery charge, there can be even more serious offenses, things called honest services fraud, which is a 20- year offense, and RICO, the racketeering act. If Mr. Mueller were to bring those kinds of charges, those are the kind of charges used to flip senior members of a conspiracy or criminal enterprise. Election campaign laws, a more simplistic conspiracy charge, a maximum five- year sentence. When you're trying to flip the president and associates, it's those serious charges, RICO, that's the serious stuff that federal prosecutors can use. We'll see if that comes when Mr. Mueller issues his final report or additional indictment indictments.

CABRERA: Seth Waxman, thanks for your take. We appreciate your expertise and your perspective and education for all of us.

WAXMAN: Thank you for having me.

CABRERA: We're just getting word of a high-stakes meeting just announced involving President Trump and the fate of the looming government shutdown. Details next.

Plus, new allegations against the president just in the past 24 hours. Sources telling CNN federal prosecutors are now taking a look at President Trump's Inaugural Committee and a $100 million question.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(CHEERING)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[14:48:17] CABRERA: Something new to add to the list of investigations, the Trump inauguration. Sources tell CNN federal prosecutors are investigating Trump's 2017 Inaugural Committee for possible financial abuses. Prosecutors are reportedly looking into whether the committee accepted donations from people in foreign countries, looking to gain influence or access to the new administration. And the "New York Times" is reporting that the investigation focuses on people from Middle Eastern countries, including Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates.

The White House is pushing back hard.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The biggest thing the president did in his engagement in the inauguration was to come here and raise his hand and take the oath of office. The president was focused on the transition during that time and not on any of the planning for the inaugural.

(CROSSTALK)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CABRERA: Joining us now, Greg Jenkins, who was the executive director for President George W. Bush's second inauguration back in 2005.

Greg, I'm glad to have your perspective.

Explain how the money flow and the inauguration process works. What's paid for by taxpayers, what's paid for by fundraised money or donations?

GREG JENKINS, FORMER EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, INAUGUARAL COMMITTEE FOR PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: It's a common misconception that taxpayers pay for the bulk of the inauguration. They really don't. They pay for the swearing in ceremony, which is what everyone sees on television. They pay for the inaugural parade as well and a lot of the security issues that surround the inaugural. The Inaugural Committee raises money through ticket sales and donations to pay for the three or four days of events that surround the inauguration.

CABRERA: Now, would the Trump team have to report how they use every dollar and where it came from initially?

[14:50:00] JENKINS: What the federal election commission requires is that presidential Inaugural Committees, which are regulated as 501(C)(4) by the IRS, report the amount donated and by whom. It doesn't require, I don't believe, how the money is spent.

CABRERA: Now, we know Trump's team ended up raising more than double what you raised, double what President Obama's team had raised before his first inauguration. What do you make of the sheer total of donations? JENKINS: I'm blown away, I really am. I think in today's dollars,

the amount that we raised in 2005 comes out to about $54 million, which is still substantially less than what President Trump's committee raised. I can't do the math. We had two-thirds as many staff and that's a large expense and we did I think four times as many events and that's the second largest expense. So they did comparatively a lot fewer events with a whole lot less people requiring a whole lot less money to pay for both of those big-ticket items. So where the money went, I have no idea. I can't explain it.

CABRERA: When asked by reporters about the "Wall Street Journal" story, which was the first to report this, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders says, "That doesn't have anything to do with the president or the first lady involved."

I'm curious, how involved was President Bush in the planning, for example, when did you it?

JENKINS: He reviewed and approved everything we did for the four days of the inaugural. It seems unlikely to me that President-Elect Trump at the time wouldn't pay any attention to what is essentially a three or four-day globally televised reality show starring one person. Seems unlikely.

CABRERA: Greg Jenkins, I really appreciate your insight. Thank you for being with us.

JENKINS: My pleasure.

CABRERA: We are minutes away from the deadline for Robert Mueller. He is about to issue his response to Michael Flynn's sentencing memo. We have a team of reporters and producers standing by and ready to dig for new details.

And as we wrap up the week, the walls appear to be closing in on President Trump. We'll talk with Mike Smerconish about conversations that might be happening now inside the White House.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[14:56:48] CABRERA: Hello. I'm Ana Cabrera, in for Brooke Baldwin on this Friday.

We said it before, when it comes to the Trump White House, unprecedented, historic, never-before seen. This Friday is no different. Just take a look at this list. These are all the investigations that are currently under way involving the Trump campaign, the Trump transition team, the Trump Inaugural Committee, Trump Foundation, the Trump Foundation, and of course, the Trump administration. Just think about all that for a moment. The one common denominator in each of those, President Trump himself, who is lashing out and laying blame as his personal life and his professional life are increasingly under siege.

For Michael Cohen, a decade as a Trump Organization executive and personal attorney for Donald Trump has ended with a stunning fall and a three-year prison sentence. Now in his first interview since receiving that sentence, Michael Cohen is unleashing on his former boss, telling ABC News that he is done with being loyal and with lying, at least as far as the president is concerned.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER TRUMP ATTORNEY: The man doesn't tell the truth, and it's sad that I should take responsibility for his dirty deeds.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS ANCHOR: You lied for him for a long time.

COHEN: More than 10 years.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Why?

COHEN: Out of loyalty.

STEPHANOPOULOS: He's saying very clearly that he never directed to you do anything wrong. Is that true?

COHEN: I don't think there's anybody that believes that. First of all, nothing at the Trump Organization was ever done unless it was run through Mr. Trump. He directed me, as I said in high allocution, and I said as well in the plea, he directed me to make the payments, he directed me to become involved in these matters, including the one with McDougal, which is really between him and David Pecker and then David Pecker's counsel. I just reviewed the documents in order to protect him. I gave loyalty to someone who truthfully does not deserve loyalty.

STEPHANOPOULOS: He was trying to hide what you were doing, correct?

COHEN: Correct.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And he knew it was wrong?

COHEN: Of course.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And he was doing that to help his election?

COHEN: You have to remember at what point in time that this matter came about, two weeks or so before the election, post-Billy Bush comments. So, yes, he was very concerned about how this would affect the election.

STEPHANOPOULOS: To help his campaign?

COHEN: To help him and the campaign.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So why should we believe you now?

COHEN: Because the special counsel stated emphatically that the information that I gave to them was credible and helpful. There's a substantial amount of information that they possess that corroborates the fact that I am telling the truth. (END VIDEO CLIP)

CABRERA: Michael Smerconish, CNN political commentator and anchor of "SMERCONISH," is joining us now.

Michael, Cohen playing the victim card there but also saying he's taking responsibility. Is he trying to have it both ways?

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR & CNN HOST, "SMERCONISH": He might be. I think that the most significant part of what he said in the interview today was what you just played, Brianna, and that is that the president was very concerned at the time they were resolving the two litigation items that were outstanding, the so- called hush payments because of the election.