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Russian Lawyer Tied to Trump Tower Meeting Charged in Separate Case; Trump Faces Credibility Crisis in Primetime Address Tonight; Democrats Plan Response to Trump Address. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired January 8, 2019 - 11:00   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:00:31] KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan.

We have breaking news for you this hour. The U.S. attorney in Manhattan has charged the Russian lawyer, who met in Trump Tower with Donald Trump Jr and others in that infamous meeting in 2016 promising dirt on Hillary Clinton, well, SDNY have now charged that attorney in a separate case, highlighting her ties to the Russian government. We're talking Natalia Veselnitskaya.

Let's go to CNN crime and justice reporter, Shimon Prokupecz. He has all the details.

Shimon, I was trying to look through this release. She is charged with obstruction of justice. What is this about?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME & JUSTICE REPORTER: This has to do with a case that the southern district of New York, the U.S. attorney in Manhattan, has been looking into and investigating. It's a civil case, a money laundering and forfeiture action involving Russian tax fraud schemes.

The most important thing is that there was some -- the government is saying she had assisted in some ways, that she had obstructed justice in their investigation of this matter. Important to note, this has nothing to do with the Trump Tower meeting where she met with Donald Trump Jr and other folks obviously with the campaign.

However, what is important here is that this is the first time that we are getting word from the FBI, from the Department of Justice, from the government really, the U.S. government of her close connections and her close ties to the Russian government. That is what is mostly important here. She is not in this country, so probably will never see court. She will probably never have to face a judge here and probably will never be taken into custody unless she leaves Russia.

Obviously, the most important thing, given who she is and her role in perhaps the Russia investigation and the interest of the Mueller team in the meeting at the Trump Tower, the southern district of New York continued and pursued their matter and their investigation and have now filed charges against her charging her with obstruction of justice. BOLDUAN: Shimon, remind everyone of the role that she has played in

that infamous Trump Tower meeting and why everyone knows her name.

PROKUPECZ: Right. Everyone knows her name because she was the person who was front and center at this meeting. She helped organize this meeting. She came in, she made certain charges. She wanted to talk about adoptions. It turned out, the meeting was about a promise of dirt, and then she started talking -- dirt against Hillary Clinton and then there was this talk of Russian adoptions and sanctions. That's what certainly concerns some people in the meeting where she was present with other folks with the campaign. That is why the Mueller team has been looking into this because they are trying to see if this was somehow set up to try and interfere in the election, to try and sway the Trump people, and what the Russians wanted from the Trump campaign, and the concern of coordination and collusion, which is an ongoing investigation with the Mueller team.

BOLDUAN: Shimon, stay with us.

I want to bring in CNN legal analyst, former federal prosecutor, Jennifer Rodgers, on this one.

Jennifer, we're looking into what Shimon is laying out what Veselnitskaya is charged with. What stands out to you here?

JENNIFER RODGERS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: A couple of things. First, it is a case brought by the southern district of New York, not by Mueller's team. It relates to false statements made in a civil action. It makes sense that they have brought the case. What is interesting is what happens from here. Is she going to cooperate? Does she want to be here again? Does she offer herself as a cooperating witness, and she would have to cooperate with Mueller's team, as well.

BOLDUAN: The fact that it is completely separate from the Mueller investigation, does it mean anything for the Mueller investigation?

RODGERS: Well, not necessarily unless she decides to cooperate and then that would be a potentially s good thing for the Mueller investigation. We don't know yet what, if any charges will come out of the meeting. Southern district has brought these separately. Even if Mueller was about to include her in the charges, these would be separate charges. It doesn't say anything about whether we are going towards criminal charges on that meeting, but the potential for cooperation, if that were to happen, would mean --

(CROSSTALK)

[11:05:03] BOLDUAN: One thing Shimon pointed out, because it was a good question in the tangled web and saga of how we all learned the details of the Trump Tower meeting, who this person was, what her intentions were and many other things, one of the questions was, how connected was this person with the Russian government. How high up did she have access. One line is, "This investigation brought to life how Veselnitskaya secretly schemed with the senior Russia prosecutor to provide false information to the U.S. law enforcement in an attempt to influence the legal proceedings of SDNY."

That seems to answer it somewhat.

RODGERS: Exactly. When all this intrigue surrounding the Trump Tower meeting was going on, we kept hearing from her, I have nothing to do with them, I'm not a Russian intelligence person, I'm not connected to the government. That seems to be the same thing she was saying in connection to the civil case, I'm not connected to them, I'm having a tough time getting information from them. Then she said she had nothing to with it when, in fact, she had drafted this declaration and had lied about her ties. So that seems to be a common theme here, an ongoing thing. At least, in this document, they are calling her out on it by filing criminal charges.

BOLDUAN: She is not in the country. The likelihood that she would want to come back?

RODGERS: Pretty low, unless she decides -- she won't come back --

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: As an attorney, I would advise you.

RODGERS: She won't come back just to face these charges and go to prison. It would be only if she was trying to strike a deal. She would have her folks reach out and try to arrange that before she came back. If she wants to continue to be able to come here, work here and so on, then it is possible she would try to --

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: This gets to and this talks about the Magnitsky case. This is tangled. The Magnitsky Act was one of the things that she was going to Trump Tower to talk about.

RODGERS: That's right.

BOLDUAN: They said it was all about Russian adoptions and Magnitsky, which leaded to the citing in the filing.

RODGERS: The civil case where the filing was made that they charged as being false and the obstruction of justice was about that case that generated the Magnitsky Act, the murder of Magnitsky, the massive fraud that he exposed, which is why he ended up dying.

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: It was millions of dollars.

RODGERS: That is what the civil case is about. That is why they mention it here. It was the basis for her false statements and money laundering, for which she's now been charged.

BOLDUAN: The tangled web from what came from that meeting and everything involved is getting more tangled now. Now we have Natalia Veselnitskaya charged with obstruction of justice. Let's see what happens next.

Great to see you, Jennifer.

Shimon, thank you so much as well.

Coming up for us, President Trump takes his battle for the border wall to primetime tonight and the administration is previewing his address with a bunch of misleading claims again. We'll break down the facts for you, next.

Plus, mixed messages on Syria. Now Turkey is slamming the national security adviser, John Bolton, after his apparent contradiction of the president's plans to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria. So what does this mean now? And what is the U.S. strategy there?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:12:24] BOLDUAN: Welcome to day 18 of your partial government shutdown and no end in sight again. Tonight, President Trump will make his case to the Congress and the nation in a primetime address from the Oval Office. Big questions for him, how will he explain that the border wall is worth keeping 800,000 federal workers off the job or off the payroll? How will he explain why this is such an emergency or an emergency at all? And will he try to go around Congress all together?

What exactly the president is going to say tonight? We do not know. But the vice president may have offered something of a preview this morning.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: When the president addresses the nation tonight, he will be laying out the facts to the American people of what is a genuine humanitarian and security crisis at our southern border.

The time has come for the Democrats to come to the table and start negotiating, not just to end the partial government shutdown, but to address the humanitarian and security crisis.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: Two more questions there. If we are talking about a humanitarian crisis, is putting up a wall, how you help? And when describing the threat, does the White House have the facts to back up the claims?

CNN's Sarah Westwood is at the White House.

Sarah, what are you hearing about the speech tonight?

SARAH WESTWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Kate, we expect the president to use his first formal address in the Oval Office tonight to try to control the national debate about border security as he considers declaring a national emergency to bypass Congress for border wall funding the Democrats don't' want to give him. His address comes as White House aides worry that his message so far on border security just isn't resonating with people, that so far his attempts to make the case for the wall just haven't broken through, and that his attempts to talk about illegal immigration has failed to loosen the log jam that threatens to stretch this partial government shutdown into a third week.

We expect the address to be the president attempting to frame the problem of illegal immigration as a matter of national security. We see the administration officials increasingly use the word "crisis" to describe what is going on at the southern border as they try to gin up the sense of urgency. We have seen the administration use misleading data to describe what is going on at the southern border.

A senior White House official says the speech is expected to be seven to eight minutes long in the Oval Office, but the speech is likely to face scrutiny for its factual accuracy given the falsehoods put out by the administration in the run up to it.

There's bound to be skepticism in the audience watching the primetime address because polling shows the majority of Americans are against the president's wall and against the partial government shutdown for which, Kate, there's still no end in sight.

[11:15:09] BOLDUAN: You cannot lose sight of that fact.

Sarah, thank you so much. It's great to see you. Really appreciate it.

As Sarah was pointing out, one thing that will be more important than ever tonight is the facts. It's already starting. Let me play for you the vice president this morning.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PENCE: Nearly 4,000 known or suspected terrorists were apprehended attempting to come into the United States through various means in the last year.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: The missing fact there, most of them were apprehended at airports, which doesn't have anything to do with a wall at the southern border. At the southern border, an administration official tells CNN roughly 12 people on the terror watch list were encountered from October 2017 to October 2018. Add to that, NBC News is reporting that at the northern border, 41 people in the terror database who are not U.S. citizens, 41 were stopped. If there's a problem anywhere, the data suggests it is to the north, not the south. 41 and 12 do not equal 4,000 as the vice president suggests.

Now, here is another one.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PENCE: We have 3,000 special-interest individuals, people with suspicious backgrounds that may suggest terrorist connections were apprehended at our southern border.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: The missing fact there, according to the Department of Homeland Security from 2016, a special-interest individual, as the vice president says, does not necessarily have a connection to terrorism. This label means these people come from places like Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq and Pakistan. And then there's that.

Then all is another number, 17,000.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PENCE: Last year alone, 17,000 individuals with criminal histories were apprehended at our southern border.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: And missing there, according to Customs and Border Protection, 17,000 with criminal backgrounds were encountered at the border but it doesn't mean a connection to terrorism or violent crime. According to Customs and Border Protection, a large portion were nonviolent crimes like entering the United States illegally.

So after all that, if the vice president is the preview for the president tonight, buckle up, fact checkers.

Let's get to Capitol Hill right now where Democrats are planning their response to all of this. CNN's Manu Raju is there for us.

Manu, now we know who will be delivering the response. What are you hearing?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer delivering a joint response from the hallway of the speaker's balcony, the two players who are central to the Democratic efforts pushing back against this president, trying to reopen the government on their terms. Expect them to reject the notion that a border wall would help make this country more secure and also discuss the Democratic plans going forward to reopen the government. Expect the House this week to begin passing legislation, opening up individual departments that are not tied to the border wall. This includes Treasury Department, the Agriculture Department, the Transportation Department, Interior Department, dealing with the national parks and the like. That is how they plan to move forward on the House side. On the Senate Democratic side, they plan to try to block legislation from moving forward, potentially all bills from moving forward that do not relate to the shutdown in order to keep the focus on that.

The Republicans behind the scenes, Kate, are making their own pitch. Jared Kushner has been calling Republicans and at least one Democratic Senator to try to make the case the president's speech will change public perception and also trying to rally supporters. Vice President Mike Pence plans to meet with House Republicans. We'll see how they change the dynamic if at all on Capitol Hill in the days ahead -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: Yes, huge question. Let us see.

Great to see you, Manu. Thank you so much.

Joining me right now, Washington bureau chief for the Associated Pres, Julie Pace, and CNN senior political analyst, Mark Preston.

Great to see you guys.

Julie, it is clear what the president's goal is tonight. If he continues to throw around facts and figures that are not true, what is he accomplishing?

JULIE PACE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: It certainly undermines his argument if he is trying to build more support, trying to get people who maybe are skeptical of the wall to come over to his side. What I think the president is doing, though, is really playing to his base, which already supports this idea. They aren't responsible for him not agreeing to some compromised solutions on the table that his party was willing to back because they were pushing so aggressively for the wall. I think the big question is whether Trump's base is open to some of this fact checking. I know we, in the media, certainly hope that they are. I think we don't know. I think some of the reason the administration throws out some of these inaccuracies and misleading facts because they don't feel blowback from the president's core supporters.

[11:20:02] BOLDUAN: Yes.

Mark, one of the big questions is the threat over declaring a national emergency, which means going around Congress and use money that the military can use for construction and use it there. Does he need to announce that tonight? I feel like if you are going to build up to an Oval Office primetime address either announce something or not.

MARK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: If he's going to do it, he'll do it tonight because he can then go down to the border, as he is going to do, and basically do a campaign rally. He says he is going down to look at the situation. We hope he doesn't do it. If he does do it, he will create another crisis on top of another crisis on top of another crisis. We're talking about --

(CROSSTALK)

PRESTON: Right. You are talking about bringing in the third branch of government, bringing the courts in. This is going to go to court. Democrats, some Republicans trying to say this is not an emergency. This can be very problematic for the president.

Your question, who is he talking to? I don't think he cares about cutting a deal. I think it is all about galvanizing his base. It really is. It's all about galvanizing his base.

BOLDUAN: This is nothing to do with getting people back at work.

PRESTON: I don't think so.

BOLDUAN: That is frustrating.

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: Thank you.

Julie, if the president doesn't use his time with care, you are making an Oval Office address in primetime, if he doesn't use this with care, what does that mean the next time he does this?

PACE: I think it's a great question. This remains one of the few things that only a president can do. You can argue about whether the Oval Office address has as much power as it used to, given the other ways we can hear from the president, particularly this president using Twitter so aggressively. It remains something that is unique to the presidency and that previous presidents have used to really say something impactful, to signal that what they are doing is to try to have a conversation with the American people that should rise above some of the noise, that should speak to all Americans. I think it is important enough to call on this piece of presidential power. We haven't seen this president use this. This is his opportunity, if he chooses to take it, to be bigger than I think we see him in a lot of other formats. If he doesn't do that, I think it will undermine any attempts he has in the future to use this for that kind of purpose. There may be a moment when we truly are in a moment of national crisis that he would want to draw on this format.

BOLDUAN: It could be the definition of the boy who cried Wolf.

Our friend, Mark, at CBS, Major Garrett, asked an important question to Vice President Pence, which was why not, if you care about getting people back to work, why not pass the other funding bills, sign off on the other funding bills that can easily sail through Congress and separate out the Homeland Security bill and border funding. Let me play what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAJOR GARRETT, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, CBS NEWS: Why must there be a partial government shutdown affecting agencies that have nothing to do with the debate?

PENCE: Really for two reasons. Number one, these are the bills that were remaining at the end of the year.

(CROSSTALK)

PENCE: Yes. Right.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: That is right. From Mike Pence and Sarah Sanders, they are not answering the question.

PRESTON: Because they can't answer the question. It is all about leverage. If they pass the bills they lost leverage if they had leverage because Democrats are not going to feel compelled to give money to the border wall. Nancy Pelosi is in power. Democrats have been frustrated by the lack of oversight of the administration. They are not going to give in on this. I think President Trump needs to realize that. He may not realize it until we see some Republican defection. That may come later in the year if there's political pressure for this to be resolved. There are a lot of people out of work right now. Let's get them back to work.

BOLDUAN: Later in the year, Mark Preston says, and we could see defections in terms of the shutdown.

Julie, quickly, on the response, you talk about Nancy Pelosi. Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer giving a joint response. Someone suggested it would be good to have someone out of the political realm, someone in Homeland Security or the military space, to give the response. What is this going to do?

PACE: Having Pelosi and Schumer do the response certainly will open Democrats up to a lot of criticism because they are the political leaders. But what the president is doing tonight is essentially giving a political speech. You can call it a crisis if you think it is a crisis at the border but we are talking about a political crisis where the White House and Democrats are at odds. So in that sense, it is asked that the political leaders are at the forefront. I don't think Schumer and Pelosi will have much luck bringing in undecideds or Republicans to their side.

BOLDUAN: I heard it put this way, it is starting to appear as if it is a policy in search of a crisis.

Mark, Julie, great to see you guys. Thanks so much.

PACE: Thanks, Kate.

[11:24:07] BOLDUAN: Coming up for us, the U.S. tries to reassure nervous allies as Turkey calls out President Trump's national security adviser on the shifting policy on Syria. What does it mean for the other 2000 other troops serving in Syria right now?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:30:00] BOLDUAN: "A serious mistake," that is how the president of Turkey is describing the Trump administration's new policy on U.S. troops in Syria.