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Trump Unleashes on Investigation; Comey on Capitol Hill; Russia Used Social Networks; Giuliani on Moscow Plan Talks; Flynn Sentencing Tomorrow. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired December 17, 2018 - 13:00   ET


[13:00:00] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks for joining us on INSIDE POLITICS today. Stay with us throughout the week, shutdown week. We'll keep track of it. Brianna Keilar starts right now. Have a good day.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Brianna Keilar, live from CNN's Washington headquarters.

Underway right now, round two on Capitol Hill. In the ring, James Comey and House Republicans.

And two damning new reports from the Senate detailing Russia's expansive campaign to get President Trump elected and keep him in office.

Millions of Americans are at risk of losing coverage after a federal judge strikes down Obamacare, ruling it unconstitutional.

And four days to go until a potential government shutdown. As of now, neither side is blinking.

Up first, his legal jeopardy is increasing and so is his anger over the Russia investigation. President Trump is vending his rage, where else, on Twitter. After weeks of damaging court filings by Robert Mueller and other prosecutors, the president unleashed a new tirade featuring some familiar lines and factual inaccuracies. He tweeted, the Russian witch hunt hoax started as the insurance policy long before I even got elected. It is very bad for our country. They're entrapping people for misstatements, lies or unrelated things that took place many years ago. Nothing to do with collusion. A Democrat scam.

Let's bring in CNN White House correspondent Boris Sanchez.

And, Boris, indications in these tweet that the president may be concerned this investigation now touches virtually every aspect of his public life?

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Brianna. Just based on his recent tweets, you could tell that the Russia investigation is a major source of frustration for President Trump. And according to sources close to the president, in recent weeks he's been apoplectic, angry, frustrate, all sorts of adjectives that I would rather not repeat on television, when he watches news of former aides either pleading guilty or, in the case of Michael Cohen, for example, flipping against him.

I did want to point out, Rudy Giuliani this weekend was trying to play cleanup on some of the Sunday morning talk shows, trying to discredit Cohen. Though, we should point out, at one point he contradicted the president. Giuliani was speaking about a written answer to a question from the special counsel regarding the president's awareness of Michael Cohen's conversations with Russians over a proposed Trump Tower project in Moscow. He admitted that the president may have had conversations with Michael Cohen about that as recently as November 2016. As you know, that's right around election time. Previously we had heard from President Trump, who said that he didn't have any contacts or any dealings with Russians at all and neither did anyone on his campaign.

Giuliani was also asked about a recent CNN report that indicated that Robert Mueller was still interested in sitting down for an interview with President Trump despite those written answers that were submitted last month. Giuliani joked about unpaid parking tickets. Listen to a part of his response.


RUDY GIULIANI, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S ATTORNEY: Yes, good luck. Good luck. After what they did to Flynn, the way they trapped him into perjury, and no sentence for him, 14 days for Papadopoulos, I did better on traffic violations than they did with Papadopoulos.

CHRIS WALLACE, FOX HOST, "FOX NEWS SUNDAY": So when you say good luck, you're saying no way, no interview?

GIULIANI: They are a joke. They're a joke. Over my dead body.


SANCHEZ: Giuliani then said, but I may be dead.

In a separate interview he was a bit more serious. He acknowledged that report. He wouldn't comment on it. But he did say that there was an agreement between the president's attorneys and the special counsel that would allow for more time for further discussion over more questions that the special counsel may have for the president.


KEILAR: All right, Boris Sanchez at the White House, thank you so much.

You might call it Comey versus the Republicans, the sequel. Former FBI Director James Comey is back on Capitol Hill right now in another closed door hearing with lawmakers. Earlier this month, Republicans grilled him on issues ranging from Hillary Clinton's e-mails to the Russia investigation.

CNN's senior congressional correspondent Manu Raju is covering this for us on Capitol Hill.

Manu, what are we learning and what can we expect from this hearing today?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, very partisan reactions from members as they emerged from this closed door interview that's been going on since about 10:00 a.m. This after that interview from about a week and a half ago when Comey did answer questions for roughly six hours. And Democrats emerging from this saying this is all essentially a waste of time. Republican in their final days in power trying to get any sort of dirt they can about the Russia investigation and the Clinton e-mail investigations and Republicans suggesting that James Comey has not been fully forthright, including Mark Meadows, who says that James Comey's testimony has been inconsistent with things from the past, including his knowledge about the Clinton campaign and the DNC's involvement in funding that Steele dossier research about Trump and Russia allegations.


REP. MARK MEADOWS (R), NORTH CAROLINA: I can tell you that when you look at his public statements and also the testimony that he's given, those don't seem to reconcile.

[13:05:01] REP. LACY CLAY (D), MISSOURI: I just think it's a waste of time and resources of this Congress. But as you can see, this is the last gasp of the Republican majority in this House to paint this false narrative to protect the Trump administration and the Trump campaign.


RAJU: And the incoming Democrat chairman of this committee, Jerry Nadler, says he's going to end this investigation when the Democrats take power in January. But Republicans after today will continue with his investigation. They're going to bring in Loretta Lynch, the former Obama attorney general, to bring her in for questioning later this week, issue a report and raise concerns about the FBI's handling of those investigations.

But the question is, what new will they learn today? We don't have any sense that yet. But we do expect James Comey potentially to answer questions again from reporters later this afternoon.


KEILAR: All right, we'll be waiting with you. Manu Raju, thank you.

We knew the Russians meddled in the presidential race, but now two new Senate Intel reports are looking at the vast extent of it. These looked at the tactics used by Russia's Internet Research Agency. They found it used every major social network to support President Trump before and also after the election.

And one of the revealing quotes from these reports, the 95 days with the highest volume overall are in 2017 and 197 of the 200 highest peaks are in 2017.

Let's bring in CNN's senior national correspondent Alex Marquardt to explain all of this to us. Two reports.

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Two reports commissioned by the Senate Intel Committee. And what's really staggering, Brianna, is the scale and detail that we are learning from these reports about the Internet Research Agency, that troll farm that is linked to the Russian government, that has been indicted by Robert Mueller.

As you noted there, the efforts are ongoing and there was a huge amount of actively in 2017. When it comes to the 2016 presidential campaign, it was clear, given the posts that they've now analyzed, that they were in support of the candidacy of Donald Trump and actively trying to undermine the candidacy of Hillary Clinton by doing things like promoting her opponent Jill Stein from the Green Party.

This was a huge trove of data that was handed over by Twitter, FaceBook, and Google. Let's take a look at these numbers. They found that the IRA posted some 10 million tweets, 116,000 Instagram posts, 61,000 FaceBook posts and 1,000 videos. And then, on top of that, there were some 44 Twitter accounts that posed as U.S. related news organizations that collected around 600,000 followers.

Now, even though the reports -- those who were doing the reports got this huge trove of data, they said that it was actually the bare minimum that these companies could have handed over.


MARQUARDT: And, Brianna, one of the major headlines here is the activity, the nefarious and maligned activity that the IRA did in targeting the African-American population. In deploying what they say is voter suppression tactics on the black community. And the same they were actively fear mongering on the right.

And we've talked a lot about the disinformation campaign, what's happened on these social networks. But what the -- these reports are now saying is that the IRA actively tried to recruit assets to do things that they wanted them to do, particularly, they say, within the African-American community. But one big example they also gave was, there was a Christian FaceBook group and they said there was -- they were posting saying, if you have a sex addiction, you know, you can call this line. And that would eventually open people up to some sort of black mail. Just classic espionage tactics.

So very scary about what happened in 2016, what's ongoing, and, of course, Brianna, there's no sign of that stopping and so that doesn't bode well for 2020.

KEILAR: Oh, my goodness. All right. Well, these reports are very interesting. Thank you so much for giving us the bullet points. We really appreciate it, Alex.

For more I want to bring in my guest, Democratic Congressman Steve Cohen of Tennessee. He is a member of the House Judiciary Committee.

Sir, thanks so much for being with us. We really appreciate it.

REP. STEVE COHEN (D), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: You're welcome. Nice to be with you.

KEILAR: I want to get your perspective on this -- these reports that you just heard about, specifically the fact that African-Americans were targeted so specifically by this Russian trolling operation. You are in a district in Tennessee where almost two-thirds of your district is African-American. I imagine that as you see these results, it really hits home for you and your constituents.

COHEN: Well, it's just dirty tricks and efforts to suppress the vote that have been done by state governments throughout the south. And that's why we need to look at reinstating the Voting Rights Act. We've seen it in North Carolina, Georgia, and we've seen other examples in other states.

But what the Russians did was a very well thought out campaign to help Donald Trump win the presidency. To tamp down on Hillary Clinton's number one support group, African-Americans, to bolster her number one ideological opponent, Ms. Green, and then to promote Donald Trump. And I knew that they were doing this. We all knew they were doing it because Mr. Mueller had indicted these folks for their actions. But we didn't know the extent of it. And the massive number of tweets and FaceBook posts and other social media efforts on YouTube are astounding. And, in my opinion, there's no way that they didn't influenced enough voters to turn the election for Donald Trump.

[13:10:35] KEILAR: You think Donald Trump won because of this Russian operation?

COHEN: I think it's a combination of the Russian operation and Comey's reopening the investigation within the last 10 days, two weeks of the election of Hillary Clinton. And he feels terrible about it. I know he thought he was acting in the most appropriate and most restitutions fashion, but he was wrong. And the result is, whatever his intent, that plus the Russian activity definitely was what put Hillary Clinton under in the electoral votes. You know, she won the popular vote by three million votes, but she lost Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania close and the Russian involvement and/or the Comey investigation changed the election.

And there's some information that there was an e-mail distributed to the Justice Department, possibly by the Russians, that helped cause Comey to go forward because it suggested Loretta Lynch was not actively pursuing the matter, as it was later called, against the Clintons. And he thought that because of that he needed to go forward. And that kind of got this whole investigation and Comedy's involvement into it. But there's been much information not proven yet because it's still within a classified matter. And I'm not privy to that classified information, but that the Russians might have sent this, because nobody who was on the e-mail chain knew anything about it.

KEILAR: And you are certain the Russians sent that?

COHEN: Well, I'm not certain. It's been written in several areas. I've read it. And it's classified. I asked Mr. Comey about it in our hearing last week and he couldn't -- he --

KEILAR: Meaning you've read it in -- you're read it open source -- you're read it -- you've read it in newspapers?

COHEN: Yes, in newspapers and mentioned it to James Comey and he couldn't make a definitive comment on it. He still thought it was legitimate, but nobody in the e-mail chain, which including Debbie Wassermann Schultz and one of the Clinton, Amanda Rentoria (ph), had ever participated in it. They didn't know Loretta Lynch. There was no way any of this would have happened. So it appears to me to be a -- to be a rouse.

KEILAR: The -- Jim Comey is testifying today, as we speak, before your committee, a second day of interviews. The Republicans leading the committee brought him in before Democrats take over in January.

You called for him to resign because of his handling of the Clinton e- mail investigation. You just said that you feel like that was a contributing factor. I do wonder, though, after you had very harsh words for him in 2016, now that you see him as this sort of foil for Republicans, you see all of these things that have transpired, his firing, he's been outspoken, certainly more to the benefit of Democrats than Republicans. Do you have a different assessment of that looking back on whether he should have resigned?

COHEN: Well, I said it, he should have resigned back in October, and it was on CNN. I'm not sure if it was your show or another, but I said at that time when asked that I thought it could cause Hillary Clinton to lose the election. And I think it did. And James Comey said he's just horrified at the prospect that he could have had anything to do with it. But he did. And that was wrong to get involved. I understand his position, but it was wrong, and I thought that when I called for --

KEILAR: Would you -- would you have wanted him gone, though, congressman, under the Trump administration, or do you look back and feel like there was utility in having Comey there at the FBI at the time?

COHEN: No, I think he's -- he has this high sense of rectitude and tries to call him as he sees them, and generally he calls them right. But, in that case, he went against the policy of the Justice Department and acted kind of as a lone ranger. And afterwards, though, he was a perfect person to lead the investigation and to stand up to Donald Trump and not back down when he asked him to get -- not to be involved with Flynn and let Flynn go and to back off of the investigation, asked him to publicly say he had nothing to do, wasn't involved with Russia and wasn't a suspect.

So I think Comey, after that, was a good person to be in that position and he was fired because Trump wanting to get rid of him because he wouldn't give him his clearance and continued to pursue the Russian matter.

KEILAR: All right, Congressman Steve Cohen, thank you so much for being with us. COHEN: You're welcome, Brianna.

KEILAR: Up next, no collusion. It's been a rallying cry from the president. Now his lawyer says even if there was collusion, it's not a crime. We'll discuss that.

[13:15:04] Plus, the politics of health care as a judge rules Obamacare as unconstitutional. Some Republicans fearing massive repercussion on the road to 2020.

And speaking of 2020, we have some fresh poll numbers telling us who Democrats favor to take on the president. We're going to take you through this list.


KEILAR: A surprising comment from the president's lawyer about a proposal to build a Trump Tower in Moscow. Let's listen to Rudy Giuliani.


GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS: Did Donald Trump know that Michael Cohen was pursuing the Trump Tower in Moscow into the summer of 2016?

RUDY GIULIANI, PRESIDENT RUMP'S ATTORNEY: According to the answer that he gave, it would have covered all the way up to November of -- covered all the way to November 2016. Said he had conversation with him about it.


[13:20:08] KEILAR: Well, that is more than we knew before. When asked to clarify his remarks later, Giuliani told CNN this, that Trump told Mueller's team he spoke to Cohen about the proposed Moscow project, but he didn't specify exactly when those conversations took place. He said, quote, up until November 2016, they could have had a conversation about Trump Tower Moscow and it went nowhere. It was a real estate project. There was a letter of intent to go forward, but no one signed it.

Let's discuss with CNN political analyst Ryan Lizza, Robert Mueller's former special assistant at DOJ, Michael Zeldin, and our chief political correspondent, Dana Bash.

I mean this is amazing because Michael Cohen, we learned, that these conversations could have gone into, what, June of 2016. This is a different timeline. What was your reaction to hearing Giuliani?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That he is of the -- everyone on the legal team, the closest with the president. And it just made me think of when he went on Sean Hannity, somebody on Fox, and just blurted out all those months ago that the president did, in fact, pay off the -- give the hush money for those two women. I'm obviously, you know, paraphrasing here, but that's the gist of it. And everyone went, oh my gosh, what's he doing? And he was paving the way for bad news. And news that showed that the president wasn't telling the truth.

It looks like maybe he's doing the same thing here. Now, maybe I'm reading too much into it, but that certainly seems to me to be what's happening here.

KEILAR: That -- and I wondered the exact same thing because of what we've seen him do in the past.

I wonder, Michael, what you thought, if this was -- we all believe that there's a certain timeline, but perhaps his written answers to Mueller's team say something different and Rudy Giuliani is getting ahead of the bad news. What do you think?

MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I thought what I heard is that he was mistaken, that he wasn't fully informed about what the president's position was. I believe that the president's position has been that he knew about this up until January and that that would be the matter in which he would answered these question.

Now, Dana could be absolutely right, that he actually had oral communications about this. That's not in the documentation that the lawyers reviewed before they submitted their written questions, that Giuliani may be, you know, getting ready to, you know, sort of make it easier for the bad news to come out.

But when I heard it, I thought, he's just mistaken. He's uninformed, like he's been on many other things in the past.

BASH: Can I just have one thing --


BASH: Because I spoke with him yesterday trying to get clarification on a lot of the things he said yesterday morning. He said that the president doesn't really remember when he had those conversations with Michael Cohen. So that might be part of what's going on.

KEILAR: And then --


KEILAR: Yes, parse that with the could have had a conversation about Trump Tower Moscow. Is he bridging the gap between reality, what his client doesn't recall, what he may have said in written answers?.

LIZZA: I mean it's like Trump's tweets, trying to figure out whether there's some broader strategy behind them, or it's just someone speaking completely off the cuff is not easy.

I think that with the bigger point here is it shows the danger of the White House and Trump having to sit down, answer all those questions from the special counsel without knowing everything that the special counsel knew, right? It's like they turned in their homework, right, and then the special counsel did this flurry of filings that revealed all these new details and I am sure at the White House surprised them maybe a little bit about how much more they knew previously. And now -- and this is what they've always been scared of is stepping in it, saying something incorrect, committing perjury because they were betting that the special counsel couldn't prove them wrong.

KEILAR: And to be clear on the timeline, if he said January of 2016, he sends in the written answers. The timeline was that then we found out that Michael Cohen said he was up until as late as --

BASH: The convention time.

KEILAR: At least as early -- yes, when he was already the presumptive nominee.

BASH: Right.

LIZZA: Yes, exactly.

ZELDIN: But if you're a lawyer in this situation, you can do two things. You can look at the documentation that is before you, that which you have given to the special counsel, and then you can talk to your client. And the two of those things lead you to what you're going to write in the question. So they have all the documentary evidence before them and that last date that is provable in the documents is January. And they asked their client, is January your last day? And he says, yes, to the best of my recollection. That's how you submit your answers. If it turns out your client is lying to you or there's some other proof that Mueller has, well, then you're going to have to deal with this. But that's how you have to answer the questions if you're the lawyer.

KEILAR: Or it is to the best of your recollection.

ZELDIN: That's right.

KEILAR: I do want to ask you, Ryan, about a poll, a new NBC/"Wall Street Journal" poll. It says 62 percent of the people responding, they said Trump is lying in the Russia probe, that is up from 56 percent in August.

What's your read on this and how much this matters?

LIZZA: I mean considering how much I personally, as a journalist covering this, see how much the president fails to tell the truth, I'm sort of shocked that there's 38 percent of the country that thinks he doesn't lie. I mean that's just like the weather these days, is the president misstates things, lies. And the fact that there's 38 percent in the country that is not sure of that or says he doesn't, I don't -- you know, that just shows what sort of bubbles different parts of the country are living in because a basic fact about Donald Trump is that he just very frequently does not tell the truth. That is not a partisan statement anymore. That is just factual.

[13:25:35] KEILAR: Dana, Michael Flynn, tomorrow, is going to be sentenced for lying. There have been recommendations from the special counsel that he shouldn't get time. But what are you looking for during this sentencing? BASH: To see if he says anything as part of the sentencing. I mean we

had some revelations when Michael Cohen was sentenced. You know, both emotional and factual, or at least allegedly factual, about, you know, what he at least said to the special counsel and Southern District of New York prosecutors as part of what's going on. And I think that's the same thing for Michael Flynn.

It is still the most head scratching question of all, why he lied to not just the FBI, but everybody apparently in the White House genuinely, about having the conversation that he clearly did with the Russian ambassador about sanctions, saying, don't worry, there will be no sanctions. What prompted him to do that?

KEILAR: Yes, what does he have to say for himself.

Dana Bash, Michael Zeldin, Ryan Lizza, thank you so much.

Up next, how a new ruling by a federal judge on Obamacare could actually backfire on the GOP. One of the architects of the Affordable Care Act is going to join me next.

Plus, new poll numbers giving us a peak into 2020 as Joe Biden sits on top of a crowded Democratic field. We'll give you all the rest of the details, ahead.