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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Former Trump Fixer Michael Cohen Set to Testify Before Congress; Trump Visits Border on Day 20 of Shutdown Over Wall. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired January 10, 2019 - 16:00   ET

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


[16:00:10]

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Mark down February 7, what could be a day of reckoning for President Trump.

THE LEAD starts right now.

Breaking news: the president's former fixer now agreeing to testify in public right for Congress about the work he did for Donald Trump. What secrets might he reveal?

D.C. keeps squabbling, while 800,000 workers' paychecks hang in the balance. Today, President Trump is touring the border and hinting that his mind could already be made up about using emergency powers to fund the wall.

Plus, the tabloid that helped President Trump bury his affairs exposes an extramarital affair of one of the president's newest archrivals, "Washington Post" owner Jeff Bezos, ahead of the most expensive divorce in history. Coincidence?

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

TAPPER: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We begin with breaking news, the first major move by House Democrats that is certain to draw the ire of President Trump. President Trump's former lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen will tell the American people what he knows.

Cohen has agreed to testify publicly before the House Oversight Committee on February 7. Cohen has been cooperating with special counsel Robert Mueller after pleading guilty to crimes that include felonies that he says were directed by Donald Trump.

President Trump has denied the charges. This is breaking news. Let's dive right in to it with our panel.

Kevin Madden, I will start with you.

I mean, he will almost certainly be talking about the hush payments to women, but there's going to be a lot of questions. This is going to be a day President Trump is going to hate. KEVIN MADDEN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Yes, I think the biggest danger here too is that this was -- there's always danger when your biggest advocate, your strongest enforcer, who was Michael Cohen in his former life working for Donald Trump, becomes your biggest detractor.

The other part of this is, there's always been this sort of missing element. What did the president know? When did he know it? It's very likely or at least there are strong indications that Michael Cohen sort of holds the key to those answers.

But I think the other thing to remember too is that when we ask this question like will it change any minds up on Capitol Hill, will we start to see maybe a run from the president on this, he's still a partisan inkblot in many ways, in that people who in the past have said, well, don't listen to Michael Cohen, he's not -- as a Trump supporter, he can't be trusted, now are going to be taking his word with -- as Bible full of truth, because he's going to be saying things about the president.

And then people who were previously defenders of Michael Cohen, the president himself, well, now he's saying he's a liar. So that much isn't going to change.

TAPPER: Jen Psaki, if you were advising House Democrats, what would you tell them to do in terms of the hearing in terms of Michael Cohen and all the secrets he could spill?

JEN PSAKI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, this the hearing itself is going to be a spectacle, I think, as we can all agree. And I think they did that on purpose, because they had to come out of the gate strong and send the message that they are going to hold the Trump administration accountable.

But as for the hearing, I would say they need to come to the table and get more information, new information out of Michael Cohen. So don't spend too much time on the hush money payments, because there's a lot known about that. It's been confirmed by Michael Cohen, by SDNY, by basically every entity.

TAPPER: Rudy Giuliani.

PSAKI: Rudy Giuliani.

So what you want to do is you want to get to what Kevin was talking about, was, what did Donald Trump know and when did he know it?

TAPPER: About the Russia investigation.

PSAKI: Well, and about many, many things, I would say, because you -- because -- and that's how they can kind of further this investigation -- not investigation, but kind of further this narrative about Trump and the administration.

TAPPER: Kristen, I want to get your reaction to a comment that -- we just got a statement from Michael Cohen. He says -- quote -- "I look forward to having the privilege of being afforded a platform with which to give a full and credible account of the events which have transpired -- unquote.

I mean, Kevin's right in the sense that people who used to say don't listen to Michael Cohen now believe him. And the roles have completely switched. But he will be under oath.

KRISTEN SOLTIS ANDERSON, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Sure.

And he already now knows the penalty of, when you do say things under oath that are not quite true, just how serious that is. And plenty of people have gotten ensnared through the process of this special counsel investigation in saying things to the authorities that aren't quite true, and then paying the price for it.

But I think if I was advising House Republicans on this, I would advise them to try to put very tight barriers around what should be asked in this hearing.

Michael Cohen's statement just there says, I'm going to talk about the events that transpired. Almost anything could fall under the events that transpired. That's everything. And things like the Russia investigation have strong bipartisan support. Let's figure out what happened with regards to what Russia did in our election, who knew what and when.

But if it comes to let's start digging into what to Donald Trump do that was business practices that may have been shady in past decades, I mean, there are places this could go that would be unflattering to the president, but are not necessarily the sorts of things that it may be justified for Congress to be digging into.

[16:05:00]

TAPPER: And, Jamal, sometimes, these congressional hearing, sometimes they will be really organized and well-thought-out and somebody will say, OK, this is what we want you to ask about. This is what you should ask about. And it's really done very strategically.

And then oftentimes that's not what happens, however. Oftentimes, it's just members of the House just bloviate and pontificate. I assume that you're hoping Chairman Cummings will do the former.

JAMAL SIMMONS, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Yes, I have actually talked to Chairman Cummings about his approach to investigations in general, not particularly this investigation, but all of them.

And what he has been very clear about is that he's not looking to score a home run off the first time at bat. He wants to methodically go through this. He talks a lot of the time about being a lawyer and building a case from the bottom up.

So I think you're not going to see him do that. Now, what the rest of the people on the committee do, who knows? But the one thing I'm very curious to hear from Michael Cohen is a long time ago I decided to stop thinking of Donald Trump as a politician and think of him as a former casino owner.

And once you put that lens on Donald that lens, he makes a lot more sense. And I think Michael Cohen will help reveal some of the shady characters and shady practices that the former casino owner from Atlantic city does in the White House.

TAPPER: And we just got a statement from Elijah Cummings the top Democrat, the chairman on the Oversight Committee.

He says of Cohen -- quote -- "He will have a chance to tell his side of the story and we will have a chance to question him. The American people deserve that."

The other thing is, it is very clear the White House is going to say Cohen's a liar and in fact he's going to jail because he's a liar and he's going to jail for three years because he's a liar. So why is anybody even paying any attention to anything he has to say?

MADDEN: And they won't stop there. They're going to build an entire syndicate designed to attack the credibility of Michael Cohen.

And I know we have high expectations for Congress in doing what Kristen talked about, which is drawing a very narrow box around what we can ask about him. But I have very low expectations for that. I expect that it will be a partisan circus, and that members of Congress that are aligned with President Trump are going to just go at him with just -- just try and hammer him on his credibility.

TAPPER: Do you think that the hush money payments to Stormy Daniels and the hush money payments made to Karen McDougal, that that should be a primary focus in terms of campaign finance irregularities and convictions?

Or do you think that people should actually go in there and more investigatively just try to find out about Russia and crimes that they don't know about?

PSAKI: I think they should not spend the majority of their time on the hush money payments. Obviously, there are ongoing investigations about that.

There are some questions that should be asked about that by Congress. But they need to have an orchestrated approach. I think the hardest challenge for Democrats is not making this their showboating moment, where they're going to get on the national map. And that's very hard to coordinate, as sort of Jamal was referencing, just to put it mildly.

But they will be -- they will help themselves in the long run if they don't do that.

TAPPER: Another breaking story today, major story, a CNN exclusive, we have just learned that special counsel Robert Mueller interviewed President Trump's chief campaign pollster.

The news seems potentially even more significant after the revelation this week that Paul Manafort when he was President Trump's campaign chairman gave internal polling data to a Russian with ties to military intelligence, Konstantin Kilimnik.

The pollster, Tony Fabrizio, worked with Manafort on the campaign and on the Ukrainian elections.

Let's bring in CNN's Sara Murray, who broke the story.

Sara, do we know what Fabrizio might have revealed to Mueller?

SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we only have an inkling of this.

I mean, look, Tony Fabrizio is an interesting guy, because he was the campaign's chief pollster. So he knew about the inner workings of the Trump campaign, but he also has this past business history with Paul Manafort, doing some polling for him in Ukraine.

So he went in, in February of 2018. He spoke with Mueller's team, and he declined to comment for our story. But a person who's familiar with his interview said he was asked about some of this Ukrainian polling work he did with Paul Manafort. He was not asked about the proprietary Trump campaign polling.

What we don't know is what other things topics may have been broached in this interview. This was all coming at a time when prosecutors were digging into Paul Manafort's business dealings, digging into his work in Ukraine. But they were told by the Justice Department to dig into that stuff because they wanted to know how it fit into the broader picture, if it did, about coordination with the Russians.

So it's hard to know what Tony Fabrizio could have provided, but obviously he had his hands in a lot of different pots there, Jake.

TAPPER: And, Sara, what might this interview with Fabrizio, the president's pollster, reveal about the direction Mueller's taking the investigation?

MURRAY: Well, I think it just reveals how big the scope of Mueller's investigation is.

Tony Fabrizio's interview is newly relevant, newly interesting because we just got this bombshell revelation earlier this week that Paul Manafort was sharing polling data with a Russian associate. Up until this point, we had no idea that Mueller's team even really cared about what was going on with the Trump polling data, certainly no inclination that Manafort was sharing this internal data with his Russian associates.

And Tony Fabrizio is just one of more than a dozen the Trump campaign officials, people affiliated with the campaign that Mueller has spoken to.

[16:10:03]

So I think it tells you that even if this thing is winding down, Mueller has a lot more tricks up his sleeve, and I think they're going to come out in a drip, drip, drip over the next couple of months.

TAPPER: All right, Sara Murray, thanks so much.

Kristen, as the pollster at the table, when you heard that Paul Manafort when he was campaign chair shared internal polling data with somebody who had ties to Russian military intelligence -- and Mark Sanford, the -- I'm sorry -- Mark Warner, the head had Democrat on Senate Intelligence, said this is help -- providing information that the Russians could use during their attack, during their cyber-hack on the U.S. elections.

What went through your mind, as somebody who knows what is in there in terms of internal campaign polling data?

SOLTIS ANDERSON: Sure.

So, it depends on what was handed over, and if it was crosstabs or top lines of a poll, in some ways, that's a fairly blunt instrument. It's not going to be the sort of thing that will help you very deeply microtarget ads to hundreds of thousands of people, the sorts of things that Russia is being accused of.

You would need to have much more in-depth modeling analytics to be able to target specific voters. But what you could know, for instance, is if public polling was showing that Trump was not very competitive in let's say a state like Wisconsin, and the internal polling was showing that Trump was more competitive in a state like Wisconsin, if that information was handed over to forces on the outside who could be of assistance, letting them know that, hey, we think Wisconsin's more competitive than the public polling would be of interest.

And that's why it's incredibly illegal to do that, to share internal polling data with outside forces, even within the U.S., super PACs, things of that nature, that could provide help to your campaign. Providing it to a foreign intelligence operation is even a step beyond.

TAPPER: And one of the things that Senator Warner cited yesterday were the efforts that the Russians made with bots and with fake ads and all that stuff to discourage African-Americans from voting at all.

And he said that as possibly something, if it was in this data, maybe it would be relevant. Again, there's so much we don't know about this. But that also seems something that is worth exploring, finding out more. Did this pulling information indicate that in Pennsylvania and in Philadelphia and in Milwaukee and Detroit, maybe African- Americans were less sold on Hillary, or even voting at all?

SIMMONS: But, again, we don't know what was in there. But what we do know about polling in general is it's not always just the state of play. It's also some strategy in there.

So if we're looking at an argument, it'll tell you which argument fares better than another argument with particular people in the different populations that you're concerned about. So this gets at that question of, does this depress African-American voters?

And we have no idea what other conversations these folks were having with these particular characters. And what we know now is that every single thing, everything that the Trump people tell us about their relationship with Russia is not accurate.

So we can't believe what we know now is all there is to know.

TAPPER: And you remember that obviously President Trump has been saying no contacts with Russia, no contacts with Russia.

President Trump was asked about the report about Manafort. Take a listen to what he had to say, Kevin.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION: Do you know that Paul Manafort was sharing polling data from your campaign with the Russians?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No, I didn't know anything about it. Nothing about it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDEN: Well, look, the thing that's most problematic about it is, don't look at a pollster as just like somebody who's measuring sentiment.

They are essentially the chief data and research leads on a campaign. And if there is going to be a credible charge of collusion, the probably strongest place where it would be most effective would be use of data and research.

So I think that's what's particularly troubling about this particular angle that the special counsel seems to be taking, which is, this is the direct link of actually using data and research. I mean, as Kristen mentioned, you can't even share this with a super PAC. What makes you think that you can share it with a foreign power's intelligence officers?

That I think is where -- this is now -- this is not conclusive, the fact that we know.

TAPPER: No, no, no, not at all.

MADDEN: But it is quite damning and it is very problematic. And they should -- and I think the White House would be -- they're making mistake in trying to dismiss it.

PSAKI: And as more comes out about this, which presumably we will learn more, including probably what the document was -- and if we look at that information, usually, on these -- or often on polls, you have things testing, as Jamal said, like this particular wording would work best with this audience.

Now, Trump may not have used the wording that was in this poll. But if any of these ads, the bots used that language, that's very damning for them as well.

(CROSSTALK)

PSAKI: So I will be very interested to see, when we see the actual poll, to see if the specifics like that are in there and compare it with the kind of ads that were being run on Facebook and other social media channels to see if the data was used. That's a big question here.

TAPPER: Were you surprised when you found out, as the -- well, there are two Trump dislikers at the table.

Were you surprised when you found out about Manafort sharing this information?

PSAKI: No, I wasn't surprised, although it is sort of a piece in the movie about this that will one day be done that is so specific, that I guess it was a little bit shocking on that level, but not surprised that Manafort did this. I mean, these are his friends.

[16:15:04] He was clearly in touch with them, had access to all kinds of campaign information. This is the first interesting connector of polling and data that we've seen, though.

TAPPER: All right. President Trump saying he will almost definitely declare a national emergency to fund the border wall. The one word that the White House counsel office is advising Trump aides to use over and over and over to bolster their pending legal case, that's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Right now, Democrats are working to make good on their campaign promises to conduct oversight of the Trump administration.

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin is in a closed-door briefing at this hour explaining why the administration eased sanctions on Russian companies with close ties to oligarchs, or allies of Vladimir Putin. This all comes as the White House is beefing up its in-house legal team, preparing to fight the possible public release of Robert Mueller's Russia report.

CNN senior White House correspondent Pamela Brown picks up the story.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

[16:20:04] PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): President Trump won't say if he wants to stop Robert Mueller's report on the Russia probe from being made public.

REPORTER: The special counsel's final report. Do you want that to be made public?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We'll have to see. There's been no collusion whatsoever. We'll have to see. BROWN: But it's a fight the White House counsel's office is gearing up for, by adding 17 more lawyers to its team. The new team believes that a large portion of the information in Mueller's investigation should be protected by executive privilege, even exploring the possibility of having only a heavily redacted version of the report be released to the public.

But Democrats are vowing to make the full Mueller report public.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA), CHAIRMAN, HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: I'm prepared to make sure we do everything possible so that the public has the advantage of as much of the information as it can.

BROWN: And as we await the release of the Mueller report, the president said he had no knowledge his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort shared internal polling data with his Russian associate Konstantin Kilimnik before the 2016 election, a potential example of coordination between the campaign and the Russians.

REPORTER: Did you know that Paul Manafort was sharing polling data from your campaign with the Russians?

TRUMP: No, I didn't know anything about it. Nothing about it.

BROWN: With Kilimnik acting as the go-between, the data was ultimately intended for two powerful pro-Russian Ukrainian oligarchs who owed Manafort millions.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN: And one of the oligarchs denies requesting or receiving polling data from Manafort, but in terms of the Mueller probe, all indications, Jake, are pointing to the special counsel near in the end in the next few months, setting the stage for a new political and legal fight over findings and who gets to see them.

TAPPER: Pamela, you're also learning more about Mueller's interest in what President Trump has said publicly.

BROWN: That's right, Jake. We've learned investigators have been focused on conflicting public statements by President Trump and his team that could be seen as an effort to influence witnesses and obstruct justice, according to people familiar with this investigation. Now the line of questioning adds to indications that Mueller views false or misleading public statements, same as to the press or to the public as obstruction of justice, and that could set up a potential flash point with the White House and the Trump legal team should that become part of any final report from the Mueller investigation -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Pamela Brown, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

As anger over the shutdown spills into the street with federal employees protesting, Mr. Trump goes to the border and makes it clear he wants to declare national emergency. Well, today's photo-op bring people any closer to a paycheck? Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:27:23] TAPPER: Our national lead now. President Trump visiting the U.S./Mexico border to try to make the case for his border wall, asserting he will almost definitely declare a national emergency if there's no compromise with Democrats about the wall to end the partial government shutdown.

Officials familiar with the matter tell CNN that the White House counsel's office is even preparing legal justifications for the move, advising the president's aides to ramp up the talk of the, quote, crisis at the border. A lawyer suggesting the more times the term "crisis" is used, the more citations they will have in filing a legal defense.

It's all part of the singular focus in PR push from the White House. Photo-ops at the southern border today, a surprise appearance by the president in the press briefing room a week ago, standing with representatives at the National Border Patrol Council, the president's first and only primetime Oval Office address, not to mention the president making a big show out of walking out of negotiation, meaning with Democratic leaders at the White House yesterday.

Also part of this singular push: a slue of demonstrably false claims. Today, we got a new one.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: When during the campaign, I would say Mexico is going to pay for it, obviously, I never said this and I never meant they're going to write out a check.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Except, here is the thing. Donald Trump did, indeed, say that he would force Mexico to make a direct payment to the United States. We reported it on this very show, April 5th, 2016.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Today, Donald Trump unveiled his trip to make Mexico pay for his proposed wall along the southern border. He says Mexico must make a one-time payment of $5 billion to $10 billion to the United States to construct the wall.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: We got that off his pay for the wall campaign memo, which is still readable. You can go to DonaldjTrump.com right now. It reads, quote: It's an easy decision for Mexico. Make a one-time payment of $5 billion to $10 billion.

CNN's Kaitlan Collins is at the White House.

Kaitlan, in anticipation of this stalemate continuing, the president today canceled a different trip for later this month.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, if you wanted a sign that this shutdown isn't going anywhere fast, the president announced today that a trip a week and a half away, he's going to cancel it, blaming Democrats for why he's not going to Switzerland, even though White House officials were privately expression concern about what the optics would be if the president traveled to Davos, rubbing elbows with millionaires and celebrities while hundreds of thousands of federal workers weren't getting a paycheck.

But really what this goes to show is that they do not believe that this shutdown is going anywhere.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TRUMP: Politicians in Washington are saying, oh, they don't know the first thing about -- they've never been here.

COLLINS: President making the case for his wall on the border, after suggesting he may declare a national emergency to build it.