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Veselnitskaya Charged with Obstruction; Trump Primetime Address; Pence Misleading Claims on Terrorists; Tenants Face Eviction Over Shutdown. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired January 8, 2019 - 13:00   ET


[13:00:00] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Eastern tonight.

Thanks for joining us on INSIDE POLITICS. See you back here at this time tomorrow. We'll analyze what the president said.

Brianna Keilar starts right now. Have a great afternoon.

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

Underway right now, the Russian lawyer at the center of the Trump Tower meeting now charged in a separate federal case that highlights her ties to the Kremlin.

Hours away from the president's primetime pitch to Americans on his wall. This as his vice president pushes more misleading claims.

Plus, the president's son-in-law making last-minute calls to lawmakers as concerns grow that some Republicans are beginning to waiver.

And, another man turns up dead at the home of a Democratic mega donor. Two deaths in 18 months. CNN investigates.

We begin with charges against the Russian lawyer who met in Trump Tower with Donald Trump Junior and others after promising to deliver dirt on Hillary Clinton during the campaign. Federal prosecutors are charging Natalia Veselnitskaya with obstruction in a separate case, a money laundering case. And it's a case that highlights her ties to the Russian government. Something she has minimized.

CNN's Sara Murray joining me now with details on this.

What exactly are these obstruction of justice charges about, Sara?

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brianna, as you pointed out, these are brought in the Southern District of New York. They're obstruction charges in connection with this money laundering case. But it's really interesting because it does, once again, highlight her ties to the Russian government.

So let's step back and remind our viewers who Natalia Veselnitskaya is. She's a Russian lawyer that we've heard a lot about in connection with the Mueller investigation. That's because she was in that Trump Tower meeting in 2016 with senior members of the Trump campaign who showed up expecting to get dirt on Hillary Clinton. Instead, they met Veselnitskaya, who wanted to talk about adoptions.

Now, her story has shifted about her connections to the Kremlin. She previously denied that she had any. Later, in April of 2018, she revealed in an NBC News interview that she was actually an informant.

So this case in New York really gets to the heart of some of her communications with the Russian government. Prosecutors say she concealed the extent to which she was in contact with and collaborated with the Russian government in this case.

Now, in a part of this latest filing, it says, the Russian prosecutor, from a personal e-mail account, sent to Veselnitskaya a Microsoft Word document, which appeared to be a draft filing made in the name of Natalia Veselnitskaya, the defendant, and addressed to the general prosecutor of the Russian Federation. So that just shows you the extent of their communication.

Now, she was asked before in an interview if she was just parroting the case of the Russian government and if that would amount to obstruction. Here's what she said.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You said that you never tried to dictate the case that the Russian prosecutor was giving. If you did, and that's what these documents suggest, would that be an obstruction of justice? Would --

NATALIA VESELNITSKAYA: What obstruction? What are you talking about?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you were trying to dictate --

VESELNITSKAYA: What are you talking about?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To the prosecutor general.

VESELNITSKAYA: Are you saying we forced the attorney general of the United States? What you talking about? Just a second, Richard, I want to have it on the record.


MURRAY: So you can see her there being upset about the possibility of obstruction of justice, the charge she now faces.

CNN reached her again today. She refused to comment on these charges she's facing and said -- instead she told CNN she will defend my professional honor. She also said she was frustrated by the media coverage on her.

Brianna, in reality, she's not here in the United States. It's very unlikely she'll actually be taken into custody unless she decides to leave Russia.

KEILAR: All right, Sara Murray, thank you.

Michael Zeldin is here with me now to discuss this. He's a former federal prosecutor and he was Robert Mueller's special assistant at the Department of Justice.

So, you heard, Michael, Sara say, she'll probably never going to see the inside of a courtroom for this, so why is this significant?

MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Because you charge people when they commit crimes. And if she leaves Russia to a third party country, through Interpol, they have a red notice process where she could be arrested and brought to the United States. So you lay a marker down saying, you commit a crime in the United States, we're going to charge you with that crime. If you want to stay in Russia for the rest of your life, assuming Russian law never changes, so be it. But if you move out of Russia, we're going to grab you.

KEILAR: If you go to some place that the U.S. has an extradition agreement with, I that right?

ZELDIN: Correct.

KEILAR: OK, So Robert Mueller and the special counsel, this is not them, this is the Southern District of New York, to be clear. But how would the special counsel be looking at this? What would the significance be? Is this something that could have spun off from information they had?

ZELDIN: So it's an interesting case, this Prevezon case, which was a civil forfeiture action against real estate in New York which was purchased by criminal proceeds from a crime in Russia. So sometimes it's very mirroring the sealed case, activity outside of the United States has an impact in the United States.

They bring this action against the property. She, Veselnitskaya, files a false declaration in court and the case ultimately settles for $5.9 million.

[13:05:08] What's important to Mueller is that her role with the special prosecutor in New -- in Russia shows that her activities were not that of a freelancer but rather was a coordinated effort on behalf of Russia when she met with Trump at the Trump Tower meeting. That's the connection. She is now heart and soul part of the Russian government's apparatus as it reaches out to Don Junior in the Trump Tower meeting on June 9th.

KEILAR: And telling she has tried to minimize that relationship.

ZELDIN: Absolutely.

KEILAR: Michael Zeldin, thank you. Thank you so much.


KEILAR: Now to politics and the president in primetime. President Trump goes before the country tonight trying to convince Americans that there is an immigration crisis along the southern border. He'll try to persuade them to back his border wall demands and likely blame Democrats for the partial government shutdown that is now into its third week.

The president faces a credibility crisis, though, over misleading claims about immigration. But Vice President Mike Pence doesn't think that's a problem.


MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: When the president addresses the nation tonight, he'll 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 insecurity crisis.


KEILAR: Let's bring in CNN White House reporter Sarah Westwood.

So, Sarah, we're going to fact-check Pence in just a moment, important to note. But, first, more than half of Americans, about 57 percent, in a December poll, said they opposed the president's border wall. What's his strategy with this address tonight?

SARAH WESTWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, Brianna, President Trump clearly wants to be the one setting the terms of debate about border security as his arguments in favor of building that border wall have so far failed to break the stalemate that has left the government partially shuttered for 18 days now. And his primetime address tonight will come after aides and allies expressed concerns that the president's border security message just wasn't resonating with people, even after Trump made several recent attempts to personally sell that message, including with his first ever appearance at the Briefing Room podium and with the press conference last week in the Rose Garden. But so far he hasn't been able to convince members of Congress or most Americans that the wall is necessary.

Now, sources say that the idea of Trump doing a primetime address has been floating around the West Wing for about a week now. Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney was a proponent of this idea. President Trump expressed interest in doing this primetime address over the weekend during a staff retreat at Camp David. We expect the president to use his speech tonight to cast the problem of illegal immigration as a matter of national security. We've seen administration officials increasingly use the word "crisis" to describe what's going on at the southern border, and we've seen them use some misleading statistics to build their case as Trump considers declaring a national emergency to get funding for his border wall, bypass Congress if he's unable to do it legislatively.

Brianna, the speech tonight will also come two days before President Trump goes to the southern border, a trip he's almost certain to use as a platform to reinforce tonight's message.

KEILAR: All right, Sarah Westwood at the White House, appreciate that.

Now, the Trump administration, as Sarah noted, has been throwing around a lot of numbers while trying to justify the shutdown and their demand for more than $5 billion for the president's wall. Today it was the vice president's turn.


MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Nearly 4,000 known or suspected terrorists were apprehended attempting to come into the United States through various means in the last year.

Almost 3,000 special interest individuals, people with suspicious backgrounds that may suggest terrorist connections, were apprehended at our southern border.

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


KEILAR: All right, let's bring in our Ryan Nobles, because this is an important fact check that you're going to lead us through. Tell us what was right and what was wrong about what the vice president said.

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, let's unpack exactly what the vice president is talking about here. And it's important to keep in mind, Brianna, that they are very focused on the southern border. But they keep pointing to this number, 4,000. You heard the vice president just say it there. And he did mention in that quote that they come through various means in the last year.

Well, various means could mean a lot of different things when you're talking about people that are entering the United States that could be suspected of something related to terrorism. But when we're specifically talking about the southern border, this is what the Customs and Border Protection has specifically said about what they found there, roughly a dozen, that's 12, individuals on the terror watch list were encountered at the U.S. southern border. That from a senior administration official.

[13:10:05] Now, if we unpack that number even further, we find out that half were arrested by crossing the southern border illegally, the other half were actually prevented from getting into the United States by entering at legal ports of entry. This between October of 2017 through October of 2018.

So if you even go back further to what the administration has said about the possible entry of terrorist organizations through -- from Mexico, the State Department has pushed back on that point. This is a quote from a State Department report in 2016. As you see, it says, there are no known international terror organizations operating in Mexico, and there's no credible information that any member of a terrorist group has ever traveled through Mexico to gain access to the United States. None. No credible information whatsoever.

So where are these 4,000 people coming from? Well, according to this DHS fact sheet, they've said that roughly 4,000, 3,755 known or suspected terrorists tried enter the U.S. in 2017. Keep in mind again that tonight's speech is going to be focused here on the southern border and potentially building a wall on the southern border. But the fact is, that number that is cite by the Department of Homeland Security, repeated by Sarah Sanders, also repeated by the vice president of the United States as late as this morning is talking about people coming from everywhere into the United States, many of them coming through airports and other means, not necessarily that southern border. So that's an important thing to keep in the back of your mind as you hear the president's remarks here tonight.


KEILAR: Very important.

Ryan Nobles, appreciate it.

Now, for a queue perspective on this, I want to welcome Jeh Johnson. He's the former secretary of Homeland Security under President Obama.

Secretary, thanks so much for being with us.


KEILAR: So you're one of only six people to ever hold the job of Homeland Security secretary. What do see Trump administration officials saying that this is a crisis on the southern border, what do you think?

JOHNSON: Well, let me begin by saying this. And there's a big picture aspect that the American people should really be focused on. To the extent there is a security crisis on our southern border, it is, frankly, self-inflicted because the very people we depend upon to secure our land, sea and air borders are the people we are requiring to work without pay right now, putting their families and themselves under all kinds of stress and anxiety about how they're going to make ends meet because many of them do live paycheck to paycheck. I know because they're a part of Homeland Security and I used to lead that organization.

And so the longer the shutdown goes on, I'm concerned that we're going to reach a breaking point. We're hearing reports that TSA officers are calling in sick. And if these people miss a paycheck, they're -- you're putting real stress on the very people that our president and our Congress depend upon to secure our borders.

And so, in my judgment, priority number one has to be opening up the government and starting to pay these people, who occupy these very, very important Homeland Security functions.

KEILAR: Our Rene Marsh has really led the reporting on that TSA sickout that began around the time of the shutdown. The TSA says that it's having a minimal impact, but it's interesting to listen to the largest pilots union because they clearly are sounding more of an alarm. They're concerned that there's a security issue.

The president has tried to say that this isn't real. There isn't really a threat caused by a sickout. If you were the Homeland Security secretary looking at a TSA sickout, how high of a level of concern would you be at this moment? When do you think that breaking point begins?

JOHNSON: I'd be concerned. And we're in day 17 of this shutdown now. I'd be very concerned that, as time goes on, and we miss a pay period, and it looks increasingly to be the case, that more and more of our personnel are going to start calling in sick. I mean how many different contexts (ph) do you require someone to work but you don't tell them when and how they're going to be paid? And so that's just an untenable situation. You're talking about people who have starting salaries at $18,000, $20,000, $25,000 a year, who really do depend upon each and every paycheck they get from the federal government. And right now that's not happening. That is a very problematic situation and I think it's going to get increasingly worse.

KEILAR: The -- on the border, the Homeland Security secretary, Kirstjen Nielsen, has tweeted this. She said, the threat is real. The number of terror-watchlisted encountered at our southern border has increased over the last two years. The exact number is sensitive and details about these cases are extremely sensitive.

The -- I mean the numbers here aren't -- they're public, right? We just heard them from our Ryan Nobles. It was 12 in the last year that this was tabulated, six trying to come through ports of entry. And she is making this case that these are individuals who are encountered. The vice president said "apprehended."

[13:15:07] What is the sensitive information that she's referring to, do you think?

JOHNSON: Well, first of all, I thought your fact check was pretty good. Second, we refer to special interest aliens. Special interest aliens are not necessarily known or suspected terrorists. Because of their movements, because of their country of origin and other things, they fall into the category of special interest aliens that we encounter.

Then you have those on a terror watch list. And, in my experience, and I'm sure this is still true, those who show up who are on a terror watch list show up at airports. They tend to show up at airports. And they're quickly turned around by our customs officials who, by the way, are the very people we're putting under stress right now by not paying. And so most of these people show up at airports, not on our land borders.

Our land borders, without a doubt, are being flooded right now with women and children coming from Central America desperate to escape their circumstances in Central America. And so there is a humanitarian crisis, without a doubt, because of the problems in Central America. And that's what we need to address, in my judgment. KEILAR: When you said in September of 2016, you testified before Congress and you said, I am concerned about what we refer to as the special interest -- as the special interest alien that comes from the other hemisphere that turns up on our southern border. The concern being that someone coming from a country -- not Mexico, but from a country where they do operate as a terrorist or in some sort of peripheral role to a terrorist group, how real of a threat is that?

JOHNSON: Brianna, without a doubt, we should be focused on identifying special interest aliens if they show up in the homeland one way or another. And so I told my people in 2016, we need to focus on this. We need to have an interagency approached to focusing on special interest aliens. But as I said, in most instances, they tend to show up at airports. And then there's further investigation done. And those who are -- who are truly suspected terrorists go straight to criminal detention, the Department of Justice detention. And then there's an arraignment, which is public. And the numbers that actually reach that point are relatively small, which is why most -- we need to focus on dealing with what's going on in the homeland right now, those who self-radicalize.

KEILAR: The president's considering declaring a national emergency when it comes to what he says is a crisis. You obviously disagree on the southern border. Do you think he has the authority to do that?

JOHNSON: I'm doubtful. I believe that to the extent anything has been cited, it is Department of Defense authorities to engage in emergency construction during wartime or in the declaration of a -- of a national emergency, but that authority is typically used for overseas construction of Department of Defense, military facilities. And so I'm concerned that this may be an effort to jam a square peg in a round hole.

KEILAR: All right, former Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson, thank you so much for being with us today.

JOHNSON: Thank you.

KEILAR: Millions of Americans who depend on food stamps are weeks away now from losing them if the shutdown drags on. But more urgently, some in low income housing may be evicted. They are facing a problem right now. We're going to discuss what's at risk.

Plus, they used to be felons and now nearly 1.5 million of them are eligible to vote in one of the most vital electoral states. So which party will they go to in Florida do folks think?

And who is speaking on behalf of the U.S.? The Turkish president is ripping the national security adviser, John Bolton, for contradicting President Trump's deal on Syria.


[13:23:28] KEILAR: Food stamps, school lunches and nutrition for pregnant women and young children. These are all among the programs that millions of Americas depend on. And this is part of the partial government shutdown, these could be affected, extending into February. Those Americans could be left to go hungry. Not only that, thousands of low income renters in affordable housing could be facing eviction.

We have Ellen Lurie Hoffman with us. She is the federal policy director for the National Housing Trust. She's joining me now.

Ellen, thanks for being with us.

So this is a -- this is a non-profit, to be clear, right, that advocates for recipients of low-income housing and also owns some project-based low-income housing non-profit to provide housing for folks.


KEILAR: Walk us through how this works and why there is a problem now with the funding, where the issue is.

HOFFMAN: Right. Sure.

So we're talking about what's called project-based rental assistance, or otherwise known as project-based section eight assistance. These properties, there are 1.2 million households served by this program. The average income of them is $12,000 a year. So they're very low income. Predominantly elderly. Each -- the majority of the properties have resident -- have at least one resident that's elderly or disabled. So very low income people.

The properties are privately owned. So they're private owners that have agreed to work with the government to provide this housing. Residents -- under the way the program works, residents pay no more than 30 percent of their income for rent. And then the federal government is supposed to make up the difference with rental assistance. There are annual contracts that the owner -- that gets renewed between HUD and the owner every year. And this is where we're running into the problem.

[13:25:13] KEILAR: It's like a lease. Some are up in January. Some are up in February. It's whenever it began, right?

HOFFMAN: Effectively that's the way it works.


HOFFMAN: And all of the funding for the rental assistance is appropriated by Congress. We know that Congress understands how important it is and has consistently provided full funding for project based rental assistance. But because of what's happened where we had a continuing resolution and then a government shutdown, for some reason there is not being -- the contracts are not being renewed for the month of January. We were told basically yesterday by HUD.

Before the shutdown happened -- let me back up -- this is a complicated program, so I want to make sure that you and your viewers understand it. Before the shutdown, HUD provided some assurances when it looked like a shutdown might happen that they had the budget authority to renew contracts through the month of January. And that they would do everything they can to continue renewing them after that, although they may run into some problems in February. We were very alarmed by that because --

KEILAR: So that's the surprise, is you just found out yesterday, actually, no, the January thing is not real. Those are not going to be renewed. What does that mean for people who are depending on this housing?

HOFFMAN: So all of a sudden, owners of 500 -- properties with 500 contracts, which we think is 30,000 to 40,000 residents who will be affected --


HOFFMAN: Have learned that their contracts will not be renewed in January and there are basically no resources coming from HUD. They're -- if they have FHA insurance, and many of them do, they can pull funds out of reserves, but it's unclear how much is actually available.

KEILAR: So the issue here is, you have folks -- I mean we're not -- you said the average, 12,000 a year income. We're talking about a lot of people who are elderly or who are disabled who are receiving this benefit. And what's happening is the rent's not going to get paid, right, because they part of the rent check. But, in general, the majority of it is paid by the government.


KEILAR: And the government's not paying. So --

HOFFMAN: And it's -- and the rents -- sorry to interrupt, the rents are tied to the market. So this is not a low rent.

KEILAR: That's right.

HOFFMAN: It's privately owned. It's tied to market rates. So wherever market -- and the -- and these properties exist throughout the country in cities and in rural communities and in suburbs. So whatever the market rate is, is what the rent need to be. Without getting that rental assistance, owners are going to be forced to make very difficult choices, whether they're going to be able to make repairs that needed to be made, whether they're going to be able to continue to provide services, especially for the elderly and disabled, that they currently provide. And whether, depending on how long the shutdown drags on, whether they will be forced to raise rents on people who have, in many cases, a fixed income, and in most -- all cases, a very low income.

KEILAR: Ellen Lurie Hoffman, thanks so much.


KEILAR: We've been trying to highlight how this is affecting Americans and we really appreciate you explaining it to us.

HOFFMAN: Sure. Thanks for your attention to this.

KEILAR: Yes, thank you, Ellen.

Breaking news. We're now hearing that Paul Manafort has a response to accusations by Robert Mueller's team that he lied to the special counsel. Hear what he said.