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Interview With Virginia Senator Mark Warner; Rod Rosenstein's Exit Plan; Republican Support Fading Over Shutdown?. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired January 9, 2019 - 15:00   ET



BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: This is his latest attempt to end this partial government shutdown, now in day 19.

Just a short time ago, the president emerged from a meeting with Senate Republicans on Capitol Hill, and he said this:


QUESTION: 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?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We talked about strategy. A couple talked about strategy. A couple talked about strategy. But they're with us all the way. They're with us all the way.

QUESTION: Mr. President, what about the idea (OFF-MIKE)

TRUMP: I just want -- because, the fake (OFF-MIKE) the fake news.

And I just want to tell you that the Republicans are totally unified.


BALDWIN: As the president tries to cut a new funding deal with Democrats, he is facing a new bombshell from his campaign that puts his whole no Russian collusion mantra to the test.

New court documents filed by Paul Manafort's legal team reveal that he allegedly gave sensitive information to a Russian operative while he was Trump's campaign chairman. So more on that in just a second.

But let's get back to the White House and that meeting between Trump and congressional leaders under way in the Situation Room and a lunch with the Senate Republicans on the Hill just last hour.

Senator Susan Collins, a Republican, who has publicly called for the shutdown to, end was saying that there was -- quote -- "vigorous discussion." Another senator telling CNN that Trump was lively, but not confrontational.

So let's go straight to our White House correspondent Abby Phillip for a bit more color on these meetings and what these different folks are saying.

And so, you know, another day, another meeting, more negotiating. Will this move the needle?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: That's a really great question, Brooke.

We have been asking for days on whether or not anything is changing on the shutdown front. And it seems very much that President Trump today is saying what he's been saying for quite some time, that he wants his border wall. And that's the message he delivered to Republican senators on the Hill.

According to some of those senators coming out of that meeting, the president wanted them to remain unified, pushing for the wall even if it means that the government shutdown structures into 19, 20, 21 days and counting.

So this is a president who's not backing down at all on the issue of the wall, and yet he has said to reporters earlier this morning that he thinks that negotiations with Democrats could go well. The question is, does he believe Democrats are going to cave?

It doesn't really seem like Democrats are willing to even budge one inch. And so we are where we have been for 19 days now. What will happen in this Situation Room meeting is really unclear. Will the president say something different in private than he's been saying in public? Will he change his stance on the wall?

It seems that that might be the only way to move past the shutdown. The other option is potentially for the president to declare some kind of national emergency, allowing him to build the wall without going through Congress. He talked about that several times today, but also said that he wanted to work first through the negotiation route.

He did not want to go through a national emergency, perhaps because there are some potential political risks if he does that, but it seems that the president's trying to put that aside while he works with Republicans and Democrats negotiating over this issue.

But it's still there. It's still hanging out there as a possibility and hanging over these negotiations with Democrats. How this ends, it is not clear that anyone really knows, but we will find out more once this meeting begins and concludes at the White House this afternoon -- Brooke.

BALDWIN: And we wait for some reporting after that latest White House meeting, but again reiterating the president said that the Republican Party is totally unified when it comes to the shutdown.

Abby Phillip, thank you very much at the White House.

With me now for some smart analysis, I have seen CNN chief political correspondent Dana Bash. Always a pleasure in person.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Brooke. BALDWIN: All right, so you have just gotten some scoop from a

Republican senator who was in this lunch meeting with Trump. What did he or she say?

BASH: It's along the lines of what you just heard from Abby. The president was in this private meeting with Senate Republicans, some of whom were really, respectfully, in the words of Senator Murkowski, giving him a tough time, challenging him on the fact that the government should be reopened while the negotiations continue, and he was absolutely flat-out saying no way.

And one senator I spoke to who asked that the identity not be discussed because it was a private meeting said that the president was determined not to budge and indicated no interest in compromising.

He believes he is winning politically, and that the wall is essential to national security. And this senator said to me that every Republican has to stick together. That was the president's message. And we heard that from several other Republican senators coming out and talking to our colleagues up there.

BALDWIN: Yes. So this whole line from the president about his prime- time address last night or going to the border tomorrow, and it's been reported that he said it's not going to change a damn thing.

Do we really think that's his mind-set, or do we think that's his way of saying, well, these guys told me to do this, it was my senior aides, so that if it ends up blowing up in his face, he can blame them, but if it goes well, he's like, boom, I did it?


BASH: Oh, sure, because that's classic Donald Trump M.O. He will take credit if he thinks that it's playing well, and he will completely run away and throw anybody under the bus if it's not going well.

And that's not -- I don't even think that he would dispute that about himself. He's probably self-aware enough to know that. And everybody around him who's worked for him will tell you that that's the case.

But I think what is most interesting right now is what this senator told me and clearly others are telegraphing, that the president has this confidence that he is doing well, not necessarily -- I mean, obviously, he thinks he's doing the right thing, but that he's doing well politically. He is very sure of himself.

BALDWIN: His hope.

BASH: Well, that's a good question.

Look, he's only cared about his base. And he has said both privately and publicly that he believes that most of these furloughed workers are Democrats anyway.

Now, let's just put aside the idea that he's president of the United States, not president of the Trump base, and he needs to care about somebody who's a Democrat, an independent. Name your party or name your ideology.

But he saying that, I believe, because he is confident -- and maybe the other word to look at it -- other way to look at it, rather, is scared -- that if he doesn't stand his ground on this...

BALDWIN: How would it look to those he really cares about?

BASH: He's going to be in trouble. He's going to be in trouble politically.

But you know who else sees that very clearly with 20/20 vision, literally and figuratively?

BALDWIN: The Democrats.

BASH: The Democrats. So why would they give an inch, when they know that he believes that he will get hurt if he doesn't give?


BASH: So that is why we're in a standoff right now.

BALDWIN: So options include national emergency, emergency funding from the Pentagon that people so closely guard and wouldn't want to give up or actually coming together on some sort of negotiated deal.

BASH: Well, look, even though he is intransigent and at least going into this meeting we're going to see today the Democrats -- the leadership is intransigent, there are Republicans and Democrats lower down among the rank and file who are trying to come up with a compromise, who are trying to come up with solutions.

Lindsey Graham just told reporters today that he and other Republicans are talking about other things that they could add to the wall, reforms to the immigration system, allowing other...

BALDWIN: Sweeteners for the Democrats.

BASH: Sweeteners, other documented immigrants, maybe not DACA, but others to be able to stay legally, things like that.

But if the Democratic leadership understands the political imperative that the president sees with the wall...

BALDWIN: Why do they even want to go there?

BASH: It's unclear if they will go there either.

And so you mentioned the national emergency. People in the Trump world who I talked to yesterday before the speech thought that that was probably the most likely exit ramp for the president, because he might not win on the issue, but it allows him to save face politically, meaning you declare a national emergency. You say because you're doing that as president, you can open the government, and let the courts decide.

Now, the legal advice he's getting is that it would be a tough sell in the courts. But then he can blame some judge that nobody's ever heard of, as opposed to take the fall for, he thinks, in his mind, taking the fall for compromise.


BALDWIN: Does it hurt your brain sometimes?



BASH: You're assuming that my brain is not already very numb, Brooke. But thank you.

BALDWIN: Extraordinary. It's extraordinary, as is your brain.

Dana Bash, thank you very much for that.

BASH: Thanks, Brooke.

BALDWIN: Now to this exit plan of the Trump official who oversees the Russia investigation.

I'm talking about Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. A source says Rosenstein plans to leave the Justice Department shortly after Trump's new attorney general choice of William Barr is confirmed, which could be as early as next month.

And just remember how critical Rosenstein has been to this whole Russia investigation. Right? So he was the guy to select Robert Mueller as the special counsel. And since, there have been 25 Russians indicted, Paul Manafort has been prosecuted, plea deals have been received from both Michael Flynn and Rick Gates, and that raid on the home and offices of Trump's former attorney Michael Cohen.

And then that was followed by Cohen's guilty plea, all happening under Rod Rosenstein.

So let's talk more about why he's leaving now.

With me, CNN justice correspondent Jessica Schneider.

Jessica, why?

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's the big question, but we also know that it's also been in the works a little bit.

Rod Rosenstein has long seen this coming. We know that he's been signaling that he would leave the Justice Department when he was satisfied that Mueller's investigation was either complete or close enough to complete that it was protected.

[15:10:03] So, really this is possibly been in the works, and it could be coming soon. And it's really the clearest sign yet that the Mueller probe could be wrapping up here.

And we also know that Rod Rosenstein is also timing this in coordination with Bill Barr's likely confirmation. A source has told our Laura Jarrett that he will leave the Justice Department after the next attorney general is confirmed, which at this point, Brooke, is shaping up to be mid-February at the earliest, since confirmation hearings don't even start until Tuesday.

In fact, we did see the president's pick, William Barr, on the Hill today. And he told Senator Lindsey Graham that he plans to be on the side of transparency, as he put it, when it comes to any release of the Mueller report to either Congress or to the public.

So that's Barr's stance as he meets with these senators. But really it's fair to say that Rod Rosenstein has really been a big protector and proponent for the special counsel. You listed it right there, everything he has accomplished in just about a little under two years.

He appointed Robert Mueller. He gave Robert Mueller broad authority, including -- and this is interesting, given the developments of the past 24 hours -- specifically allowing the special counsel to investigate allegations that Paul Manafort colluded with Russians during the campaign.

Of course, we saw that come to somewhat of fruition in and hinted at in court papers yesterday, when Manafort's lawyers, they inadvertently revealed that Manafort had handed over polling data to a Russian operative with connections to Russian intelligence at the height of the campaign.

So we're sort of seeing Rod Rosenstein's directives come to fruition. So the big question, of course, when Rosenstein does eventually leave, Brooke, in what could be about a month or so, where will the Russia investigation go once he leaves if it isn't already wrapped? And really how will Bill Barr handle it?

Bill Barr saying today he will be transparent, but, of course, there could be a lot of change over at the DOJ, and that could affect the Mueller probe -- Brooke.

BALDWIN: Jessica, with all the spot-on questions, thank you very much, Jessica Schneider in Washington.

Let's discuss.

With me, CNN chief political analyst Gloria Borger, and Kim Wehle, who was associate independent counsel in the Whitewater investigation.

Ladies, hello.

Gloria, is Rosenstein's exit, do you think it's a show of his confidence for Bill Barr, or do you think he's thinking Robert Mueller has this thing on lock, he's good to go? GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I think that, first of all, when you have a new attorney general, the new attorney general, we don't know, might want somebody else in the second highest ranking position.

So we don't know what kind of conversations those two have had with each other. We also know, as Jessica was saying, that Rosenstein is invested in Bob Mueller. And I don't think he would leave unless he thought that the Mueller investigation was possibly nearing an end or that he had gotten some assurances that it would be protected.

He's lived life on the edge here for some time, for most of his tenure as deputy attorney general. And I think he wanted to leave on his own terms, rather than give the president, say, another opportunity to try and fire him.

BALDWIN: To Gloria's middle point there, Kim, what does this tell you about where Mueller stands in his investigation?

KIM WEHLE, FORMER ASSOCIATE INDEPENDENT COUNSEL: I think it's really difficult to predict.

I hope Jessica's sense that Mr. Rosenstein has some confidence in the investigation sort of being wrapped up and safe is right, although I would say I'm not going to sleep better without Rod Rosenstein in the Department of Justice, frankly. He is a career prosecutor. He's been assistant -- he's been U.S. attorney of Maryland through multiple administrations.

He's kind of a rule of law guy. When I say that, he cares about the structures and the institution and the notion that, if there are laws, that if there are no consequences, the laws become meaningless.

And I also think -- so I think it's unlikely that he would just decide that my time is up and I want to leave now for my own sake, because he's a career professional. And then he knows how important this is.

Number two is, is that in terms of reading in -- which is lawyer-speak of saying getting the next person up to speed -- it would make a lot of sense for -- actually for Mr. Barr to keep Mr. Rosenstein, because we just saw what happened with Manafort.


WEHLE: I mean, the amount of information we are unaware of -- and my understanding is -- I don't know if this is accurate -- Mr. Whitaker is not up to speed, which is probably a good thing, given his compromised position, for a lot of reasons.

I think it's -- I think it's a bit concerning that Mr. Rosenstein is leaving. And my guess is that there's a number of pressures on him to make this decision. I also suspect he has great confidence in Mr. Barr, given his reputation and experience.

BALDWIN: Such a great point. Such a great point, Kim.

And, Gloria, back over to you.

She mentions the word pressure. It just makes me think, we alluded to all the accomplishments, achievements under Rod Rosenstein's tenure with regard to this investigation. But what about the pressure from -- from the president himself?


I mean, certainly no love loss there.

BORGER: No, there hasn't been any love loss.

Ironically, when he started out, everybody loved him. He was the teacher's pet, because, don't forget, he wrote the memo about Comey which Donald Trump used as justification for firing Comey. So he was the good guy.


BORGER: But then came the raid on Michael Cohen's office, and the president was incensed that Rod Rosenstein allowed this to occur.

And then, of course, there was the question about whether or not Rosenstein was joking when he said, should I wear a wire to record the president, whom he apparently believed was out of control? And so he denied it and he said it was a joke, and then he and the president apparently patched things up.

But it has been a very rocky relationship, because the president believes the Mueller investigation is a witch-hunt. And who appointed Bob Mueller? Rod Rosenstein.

BALDWIN: Rod Rosenstein.

Ladies, stay with me. We have got to move from that to Paul Manafort and the incredible news that has come out just in the last 24 hours, a stunning revelation that the former Trump campaign chair may have shared information relating to the 2016 campaign with a Russian operative tied to the Kremlin.

What this means for Trump's argument that there was no collusion.

Plus, the man who is expected to be the next attorney general is making the rounds on Capitol Hill today, speaking of. Hear what William Barr told lawmakers about whether the Mueller investigation should continue.



BALDWIN: So many developments today in this whole Russia investigation.

Let's go straight to Manu Raju, who's up on Capitol Hill, standing by with the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee. Manu, the floor is yours.


Senator Warner, thank you for talking to us.

There was a significant revelation yesterday about Paul Manafort, the president's former campaign chairman, having a meeting with the Russian intelligence -- someone linked to Russian intelligence, sharing campaign polling data.

What was your reaction when you learned about that?

SEN. MARK WARNER (D), VIRGINIA: Well, obviously, a lot of attention is focused on the shutdown and the current state of play.

But I think one of the most significant activities of this whole investigation came out yesterday, where it was revealed -- by a mistake by Mr. Manafort's own lawyers -- I don't think they meant to reveal this -- but that Trump's campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, took private Trump campaign data and at some point in 2016 -- we assume during the summer -- shared that with a known Russian intelligence operative, someone who's got obviously ties to Putin, also has ties to one of the significant oligarchs, Oleg Deripaska, who has also got close ties to Putin.

And so the question becomes, to me, this appears as the closest we have seen yet to real live actual collusion. Clearly, Manafort was trying to collude with Russian agents. And the question is, what did the president know? What did Donald Trump know about this -- this exchange of information?

Did the Russians end up using this information in their efforts that took place later in the fall, where they tried using the Internet Research Agency and other bots and other automated tools on social media to suppress, for example, African-American vote?

Was that something that was driven by this campaign data that was turned over to the Russians? We don't know those answers, but this raises a whole host of additional questions that we need to get answered.

RAJU: That's interesting, because there have been a lot of meetings between Trump officials, people tied to the Trump campaign, Russians.

But you believe this specific meeting is the most significant evidence potentially of collusion?

WARNER: Well, if what's reported is accurate, if what the Manafort lawyers by mistake revealed is accurate, where Trump's campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, shared confidential or semi-confidential Trump campaign data with a Russian intelligence operative, Mr. Kilimnik, to me, how is that not evidence of an effort to collaborate in some way, particularly when we saw, subsequent to this sharing of information, the Russians use their social media army to, in effect, try to influence the election by -- particularly as we have seen in the area of suppressing African-American vote?

Now, can we make that connection from the Trump campaign data to the suppression of the African-American vote? Not at this point.

But why else would you be sharing confidential campaign data with a Russian intelligence agent?

RAJU: This sounds like the first time you were learning about this was yesterday.

WARNER: This was the first time that we learned -- now, obviously, we have been looking at Mr. Manafort and Mr. Kilimnik and others, that this has been in the public agenda, public press for some time.

But this level of detail, of sharing, you know, Trump campaign data with a Russian spy, a Russian spy that has got ties to Putin and oligarchs like Oleg Deripaska, I think this will be something that we will hear a lot more about in the coming days and weeks.

RAJU: Will you also look into the Trump campaign polling operation as well on the committee?

WARNER: Listen, I would like to see what specific information was relayed. I would like to know whether there was efforts, for example, from the Trump campaign to also do suppression of vote.

Clearly, there were Trump allies who were trying to suppress vote, particularly African-American vote, with some of the rules in various states. But seeing that campaign data would be something that would be very valuable.


RAJU: And before I let you go, one last thing.

We learned today about William Barr, the attorney general nominee for the president. He has told Lindsey Graham that he would not interfere with the Mueller investigation. You have raised concerns about some of Barr's past writings.

Do those assurances that he's giving reassure you in any way about the Barr nomination?

WARNER: Absolutely not. Absolutely not.

I mean, you have William Barr, who had a good reputation, but unsolicited, tried to, in a sense, apply for this job over the last few months by sending in letters to the Trump administration, saying, hey, he believes the special counsel is not fully legitimate. He believes the president is above the law.

I clearly think it was those reasons why this individual was chosen. Trump has made clear he doesn't believe that he is subject to the laws of the land. And he clearly wants to try to undermine the Mueller investigation. I believe that's why Mr. Barr was selected. And I believe, even though Barr has got a great reputation from the past, that he ought to recuse, and that actually his name ought to not go forward.

RAJU: Senator Warner, thanks a lot -- Brooke, back to you.

The top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee believes this could be the most significant evidence yet about Manafort and this could be a sign of potential collusion between the Trump campaign and Russians.

Also saying, absolutely not, those reassurances from the attorney general nominee not reassuring this senator. We will see what others say as well -- Brooke.

BALDWIN: Such an important interview. Manu, thank you.

And, to Senator Warner, thank you as well.

We have got Gloria and Kim Wehle. We will we will chat with them on the other side of the break, break down what we just heard.

Plus, with no clear end in sight, some White House officials tell us they are growing increasingly concerned about how this government shutdown will actually affect the president's message at the State of the Union.

That's in just a couple of weeks, this as some Republican lawmakers are now expressing their frustration with the stalemate.


REP. ADAM KINZINGER (R), ILLINOIS: We can all solve this. And it's like an 80 percent agreement when we're done.

It's just nobody wants to give anybody a win or anything else. And we got to get past that, or we're going to continue in this stupid shutdown idiocy cycle for the rest of our time out here. And that's got to stop.