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Trump and Senate GOP Meet as Pressure Mounts; Source Says Rosenstein Who Oversees Mueller Probe to Leave Justice Department; Trump's Attorney General Pick Pledges Not to Interfere in Mueller Probe; New Manafort Revelations Hint at Collusion with Russian Spies. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired January 9, 2019 - 14:00   ET


[14:00:00] BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thanks for being with me. Major developments today on two massive stories dogging the President, the government shutdown and the Russia investigation. I can tell you that the President is about to leave Capitol Hill where he has been meeting with those Senate Republicans to make this 3:00 p.m. meeting with Congressional leaders, including Democrats in the White House situation room. Both trips really represent his latest attempts to get the government back up and running. It is day 19 of this shutdown and over that period, the mixed messages from the President might help explain why we are still here today.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We really have to think about the people of our country. This is not a fight I wanted. I didn't want this fight. We have to think about the people of our country.

I am proud to shut down the government for border security.


BALDWIN: As the President tries to cut a new funding deal with Democrats, he is facing this new bombshell from his campaign that puts his familiar Twitter mantra, no Russian collusion, to the test. New court documents filed by Paul Manafort's legal team accidentally revealed that he allegedly gave sensitive information to a Russian operative with ties to the Kremlin while he was Trump's campaign chairman. The most significant sign yet of possible coordination, aka collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. We'll dive on in to that in just a hot minute. To the exit plan of the Trump official who oversees the Russian investigation, we're talking about deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, a source says Rosenstein plans to leave the Justice Department shortly after Trump's new Attorney General pick is confirmed, William Barr, seen here today will begin his confirmation hearings next Tuesday. So, it's possible that Rod Rosenstein could leave as early as next month. Now just to be crystal clear here, the source said that Rod Rosenstein is not being forced out. His exit just might be the clearest signal yet that special counsel Robert Mueller is close to wrapping up his nearly two-year long investigation, so we begin with Chris Cillizza and let's just talk to me about what Rod Rosenstein has been so essential, so critical to this whole investigation.

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS REPORTER AND EDITOR AT LARGE: He's been in the center of at least one big piece of it. So, let's run through it here. First of all, not on here but worth noting, Rod Rosenstein appointed by Donald Trump to his current job. He is a Trump appointee, but then he is the guy after Trump fires Jim Comey, he's the guy that appoints Robert Mueller special counsel so he is -- this is where it began, Rod Rosenstein, repeatedly publicly, despite a lot of pressure from Donald Trump, repeatedly defends the credibility of both Robert Mueller and the investigation into Russian interference more broadly and because he was there right from the start, Brooke, there's nobody else who knows more other than Robert Mueller. He has come into some criticism by Donald Trump. You'll see this Donald Trump, retweeting this is a Donald Trump fan site, now that Russian collusion say proven lie, when to the trials for treason begin, that's Rod Rosenstein, Podesta, Mueller, Hillary, but that's Rod Rosenstein in that picture and that's a little bit more direct, this is from December from 2018, isn't rod totally conflicted? He signed the FISA warrant. It's stayed the course. Here's what's interesting. You assumed, OK, you see the date on this, this is an unbelievable piece that if you have people haven't read, go read it. Rod Rosenstein during conversations at the White House secretly suggested they record Donald Trump and floated the idea of the 25th amendment, basically a majority of his cabinet removing him from office. Rosenstein said he was joking and this didn't really happen the way this was reported out. Everyone assumed he would get fired by Trump days after this. He wound up not. So, who he is making way for? William Barr. Attorney Generals always a hard one to get through particularly in the Trump administration with this investigation ongoing. He's an old- school Republican, served in past administrations and I do think when you have Rosenstein saying, all's well here, I'm going to head out, this is not being forced out as most people expected in the fall, it does suggest a peaceful transition here that may suggest, if not the Mueller probe is winding up, it is on track and Rosenstein who has defended it from the start feels good about where it is, not what it's going to find but where it is in sort of maintaining the FBI's broad and Justice Department's broad ability to be seen as fair and transparent. Brooke?

[14:05:00] BALDWIN: Thank you very much. And just staying on your point with Rosenstein's upcoming exit, it is even more urgent questions now on how William Barr will handle this Russia investigation, that is if he's confirmed as Attorney General, because six months ago, as Chris just pointed out, he wrote this memo to senior justice officials saying Trump's interactions with fired FBI director James Comey did not constitute obstruction of justice. Barr also said that Mueller should not be able to demand a questioning of the president about an alleged obstruction. And Republican Senator Lindsey Graham is defending Barr after meeting with him today.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I asked Mr. Barr directly, do you think Bob -- Mr. Mueller's on a witch hunt, he said no. Do you think he would be fair to the President and the country as a whole? He said yes. He has a high opinion of Mr. Mueller, believes what Mr. Mueller is doing a professional job, will do a professional job and will be fair to the President and the country as a whole and has no reason for Mr. Mueller to stop doing his job and is committed to allowing Mr. Mueller to finish.


BALDWIN: Let's dive in to all of this. John Avlon is with me and Paul Callan is here. So, guys in the red ties, both to see -- good to see both of you. John, just starting with you, feel free to comment on Senator Graham, to me the money question is that Rod Rosenstein is leaving, does that indicate he is really confident in Barr or that he is thinking, all right, Robert Mueller, he's good to go?

JOHN AVLON, FORMER EDITOR-IN-CHIEF. "THE DAILY BEAST": Reading the Mueller timeline tea leaves, it's been a really tough job for folks, probably not profitable to get in to it, however Rosenstein has really stuck through hard times. Everyone thought he was going to get canned toward the end of last year. Didn't. Now that he's leaving, it does create a sense of urgency but as being surmised a sense that this is winding down. Lindsey graham's comments are significant because Barr who's widely respected by Justice Department officials because of his previous tenure under George Bush 41 is giving all the indication that's despite his concerns about executive power in that memo, that Mueller he has confidence in, thinks he's doing a good job, it's not a witch hunt and it's going to go forward. It's a very transition but Rosenstein could get out when the report's done.

BALDWIN: What do you think about Rosenstein's exit?

PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I think there is a possibility, of course, that he thinks the final Mueller report will be coming down very, very soon and maybe Rosenstein will still be in office to approve or disapprove or determine how its handled. That's one intriguing possibility. Of course, we don't know for sure. The other I would agree with John. It's also possible he has confidence that William Barr is a good, reasonable choice for Attorney General and he's not going to interrupt the Mueller investigation. I think one thing we have to remember is this, Barr was very clear in a very meticulously well written memorandum that he does not believe that constitutionally you can prosecute the President for firing the head of the FBI. So, if that's a theory of obstruction of justice against Trump, you're not going to see that approved by the new Attorney General if he is the new Attorney General.

BALDWIN: Stay with me because we have to talk more about Paul Manafort. Hang tight. While Robert Mueller will still see a changing the guard, the legal team, the former Trump campaign team Paul Manafort just accidentally revealed the clearest public piece of evidence yet of possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russians during the 2016 election. This is all revealed in an unredacted court filing. CNN crime and justice reporter Shimon Prokupecz is with me now and this was a big fat whoops from the Manafort team. SHIMON PROKUPESZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: A very big whoops,

a huge blunder by all accounts in terms of this just should not have happened. This was information certainly that Mueller did not want out there. It's out there now but it gives us a lot of clues and there are some major revelations in these documents. Let's look at what Trump has said in terms of what Paul Manafort's involvement was in the campaign and this investigation. Trump has tweeted that basically what this investigation had to do with nothing to do with when Paul Manafort was working for him on the campaign and this has to do with the years before he joined the campaign. However, we learned yesterday that Paul Manafort had a meeting with a person who the FBI and the Department of Justice believes and have said is an intelligence official, a Russian military intelligence official with deep ties to the Russian government.

[14:10:00] So then what else did we learn? There were obvious other big clues in these documents but let's first look at what Trump has said. Quoting "Fox News" saying, "not a whiff of collusion between Trump and the Russians." And then he tweeted quoting Paul Manafort's attorney saying essentially that there was no collusion, this is his attorney saying that there was no collusion, while in the court documents we learned that Paul Manafort lied.

One of the biggest revelations from yesterday's court documents is that Paul Manafort shared secret, internal polling data from the campaign during the 2016 Presidential election, he shared with that Russian, that intelligence official with deep ties to the Russian government. What does that all mean? That is the big question. Does this amount now to some kind of conspiracy? It certainly shows at least in some ways that there was collusion, that perhaps there was a sharing of information between the Trump campaign and the Russians and the big question is, who else in the campaign knew about it? And did it go as high as the President, of course, the court documents do not indicate any of that, but that is certainly something on the mind of investigators as they have been pouring through this. This information just to keep in mind, Brooke, was so secretive and sensitive that even members of Congress did not know about this polling data that had been shared with this Russian operative. It's a big deal and certainly I think we're going to hear a lot more about it down the line.

BALDWIN: It's a biggee, thank you very much. John and Paul are still with me. Paul, starting with you, on the sharing the 2016 campaign polling data with a Russian, with ties to the government is that not the definition of conspiring with a foreign entity a.k.a. collusion?

CALLAN: Just to get into the legal weeds a little bit --

BALDWIN: Go there.

CALLAN: That's the piece of evidence that makes a conspiracy that makes a collusion case by itself, it doesn't. If you put it together with this, that the polling information was given to the Russians to enable them to use their hacked information that they're feeding into Facebook and other social media things to move the electorate in certain critical states, now you have, if this is true, the Trump political operatives working in collusion with the Russians to move the election. Now we don't know what the other pieces of this puzzle show, but certainly a lot of people would look at this and prosecutors and say, this could be the final piece of a collusion case against Donald Trump.

BALDWIN: Also, not to be lost in any of this, but during the 2016 Republican national convention, this is for you, Manafort and other campaign officials changed that had Republican party platform to support a Ukrainian peace plan in favor of Russia.

AVLON: Yes. This is one of the things that raised eyebrows early on. Why would they be changing the Republican platform? We know that obviously Manafort had deep ties in Ukraine and had worked on a pro- Putin Presidential campaign with this individual had been his Ukrainian business partner. What is unknown is this new information that he's talking about the Ukrainian peace plan allegedly, that he's handing over the information. I think Paul hit the nail on the head of why it's so significant. It's not that its secret polling data, it's if it's giving to the Russia, A, was Manafort freelancing or was there broader knowledge of the campaign and what did they use it for. If it was used for voter targeting through all the disinformation efforts which the Russians used in Ukraine during that campaign and seemed to have done -- we know did in this election, whether or not with Trump campaign knowledge is the big question, that's a crucial piece of information. We now know past hands from the campaign chairman to someone connected to Russian intelligence services.

BALDWIN: Wow-za. Thank you very much. Happening right now, President Trump is predicting he's going to win this government shutdown as he meets right now with Senate Republicans on Capitol Hill. Despite the President's claims of unwavering support, are cracks emerging within his own party over pressure to end this whole thing. This is happening as President Trump is quoted saying that his primetime speech and his visit to the border tomorrow, quote, won't change a damn thing. We're back in a moment.


BALDWIN: We're back. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Right now, as pressure mounts even more on day 19 of this government shutdown, President Trump has been having lunch with Senate Republicans on Capitol Hill moments before walking into the meeting with senators, the President said this --


TRUMP: We need border security. We will have border security. Tremendous Republican support and I think we're going to win, but we need -- listen. We need border security very simple.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How long are you going to let the shutdown last?

TRUMP: Whatever it takes.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BALDWIN: He says this despite the fact that a number of cracks are beginning to form within his own party. Republican Senators Collins, Gardner and Murkowski already publicly calling for an end to the shutdown. Six others voicing serious concerns over how long the shutdown is dragging on, so to Capitol Hill we go and our Congressional correspondent Sunlen Serfaty there. Sunlen, serious concerns or unwavering support? Which is it?

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: There certainly are concerns as you highlighted, the question to really answer that is how large this group grows? Does it contain itself as just a few senators and a handful of people over in the House or does it go larger with each day this shutdown continues and that in part is why President Trump and Vice President Pence are up here and they remain here at this hour meeting with Republicans on the Senate side basically trying to make sure that they're keeping in line with their strategy, that they're not any more so-called defections on the Republican side, really shining a light on where the end game is here. It was notable that we have started to hear Republicans speak out but does that grow and snowball any larger, we will have to see in the days going forward. Over in the House, we saw last week about seven Republicans vote with the --

BALDWIN: Hang on. We got the President standing next to the majority leader.

[14:20:00] TRUMP: Mitch has been fantastic. Everybody in that room was fantastic. There was no reason for me even to be there, I knew that before we went, but the Republicans want border security and national security. They want to have a steel barrier or a wall of concrete, they don't care, but I'll use any term they want. We need a barrier to stop the human traffickers and the drug trade and to stop all of the big problems that come including gangs. They don't come through your checkpoints. They come through areas where you have hundreds of miles without walls and without barriers or without strong fences, so the Republican party I can say and I just left an hour meeting, we had a great time, actually. There was no discussion about anything other than solidarity. We want national security and border security for our country.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President, Mr. President --

MITCH MCCONNELL, SENATE MAJORITY LEADER: Let me just add before the President leaves, first of all, thanks for coming out. And I think the President has accurately characterized the discussion. We are all behind the president. And we think this border security is important to the country. We appreciate your leadership on this.

TRUMP: Thank you very much.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President, Mr. President --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why not declare a national emergency?

TRUMP: I may do that at some point if Chuck and Nancy who I'm meeting with in a little while, if they don't agree to the fact that our country is really got problems with crime, with drugs, with a lot of other things that come through our southern border, so much of it comes through the southern border, you look at heroin, 90 percent through the southern border, so much, so many problems and if they can't get that through or if they feel that politically -- I don't know -- I don't care politically. I'm doing what's right for the country, but I'll tell you, it's a very bad political issue for the Democrats. That I can tell you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. President -- Did any Republicans today in that meeting tell you that they want you to pursue a different strategy, that they want you to reopen the government?

TRUMP: We talked about a couple different strategies. We talked about strategies but there with us all the way.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President, what about the idea that --

TRUMP: I mean, I just want to tell you that the Republicans are totally unified. If you would ask the same question to the Democrats, you let me know in some of those districts where I won or that are a little bit more towards sanity, you want them to run, you don't want us to have border security, you have a lot of Democrats that don't want to be in this battle. The Republicans are unified. We want border security. We want safety for our country and for 25 years they've been trying to do this. This has been passed. Chuck Schumer's raised his hand so many different times, I could give you 15 speeches that he made, but I don't think you'll really enjoy them that much. I can give you 15 speeches he talked about border security, no different than me, border security, that's all he talked about, the only reason they're against it is because I won the presidency and they think they can try and hurt us going into the presidency but that's not going to happen and we don't give up because we're doing -- we're doing the right thing for our country, OK?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. President -- why is it a crisis?

[14:25:00] TRUMP: You know why it's gone down, because of good management, because of me and my people. We've managed it well. But it is brutal. We have more people coming up. You have caravans. Nobody ever heard of that. It's gone down and we have kept it down because we're managing it well. We can never do a great job unless we have a wall or a barrier and I mean a real barrier, not a little barrier that doesn't work and if you don't have that -- it's only down because we do a great job and we work very hard at it and I have incredible people, border patrol people, I.C.E., the military has helped. I called out the military. We needed help and that's why it's gone down. Thank you, everybody.

BALDWIN: Let me just fact check briefly the President again. He mentioned this last night, 90 percent heroin coming from our southern border, you know, across this border area and while he's correct on the heroin deaths and some of the numbers, he's not correct on the fact that it's coming through the border. The majority of it is coming through legal ports of entry, just that's the fact. The President there having met with these Senate Republicans now is in route to the White House to chat with Congressional leaders for another round of how they can potentially end this19 days of the government being shut down. Sunlen Serfaty is with me on Capitol Hill. Let's go to Texas. That's where Ed Lavendera is. That's where the President is heading tomorrow night. The President admitted that the idea behind the primetime address and going where you are, ed, won't change a damn thing, all right. The President's own words, that said, how do folks feel who live where you are?

ED LAVENDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Brooke, you might as well be standing on a different planet as you hear people here in the border region talk about immigration issues and border security as compared to the way this is discussed in Washington, D.C. just to give you a sense of where we're at, we're in a little town called mission which is next to McAllen where the President is scheduled to visit on Thursday, this is the Rio Grande, what you're seeing there on the other side is Mexico and to give you some perspective, Brooke, this is a plot of land that is owned by one family and a lot of these little properties are rented out and the family that owns all of this and just so the people understand, they're already a number of projects that have -- where money has been earmarked to continue either replacing existing border fence or to create new border fence and this is one of those areas, Brooke, that would be affected by some of the projects that are already in the pipeline and the family that owns this is concerned as you look back over this way, that a border wall would be constructed back over there in the distance which essentially would cut off a number of people, several hundred in this particular area alone that would leave them between a border wall and this river and Mexico, so essentially -- and this has happened a number of times since President George W. Bush began constructing border fences creating what is a no man's land. There's a great deal about property rights and how all of this is going to unfold. It's creating a great deal of tension and insecurity here in many communities up and down the border as they're trying to get answers as to how these projects that are already in the pipeline and being worked on, how it's all going to manifest itself and what it's going to mean for these individual families and also what the new projects and what this new money that President Trump is fighting for and what that could mean for hundreds, if not thousands more along the border, Brooke.

BALDWIN: I am so glad you are there. Thank you so much for the perspective right there in Mission, Texas, appreciate it. Let's continue the conversation, Tiffany Cross is with me. Jackie Alamady. So ladies, you've just been listening there to the President speaking next to Mitch McConnell up on Capitol Hill, you heard the President, Jackie, starting with you, you heard the President talking about, you know, Republicans and solidarity and all standing together on this whole border wall, but I'm a little stumped by that, because by my count, there are at least half a dozen Republicans saying, we're kind of over this.

JACKIE ALAMADY, REPORTER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": That's exactly right, Brooke. I do want to point out that most of those Republicans are Republicans that are up for re-election in 20 so there is a bit of schism that has formed there. I've been pinging staffers on the hill asking about their boss's private opinions for the majority of this day so far and they say that most of them privately do not support this shutdown. They think it's pretty unnecessary but they are going to continually publicly support this President because they don't trust Pelosi, Chuck and Nancy as the resident likes to affectionately refer to them as to actually take this issue up separately. I think that the vice President said something that really stood out to me on Monday, which is that things -- it's difficult to get things done in Washington when there's not a pressing deadline and that's what this shutdown does, so they believe that this pressure is ultimately necessary to force the issue, but again that doesn't mean that the propagation of falsehoods and misleading statistics is, you know, the path that our lawmakers should be taking here.

BALDWIN: The fact that this President, I said a second ago, the fact that this President has said, his trip to the southern border, is not going to change a damn thing, all right, so tiffany, you have that on one side. The President is about to roll back down constitution avenue and head, you know, back home to the White House and meet with Chuck and Nancy, meet with Congressional leaders, does that -- if they know he said --