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Trump's Ex-Attorney Cohen to Testify Publicly Before Congress; GOP's Graham Says, I Don't See a Pathway Forward on Shutdown Deal; Trump Speaks at U.S.-Mexico Border Amid Shutdown. Aired 3:30-4p ET

Aired January 10, 2019 - 15:30   ET


[15:30:00] GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: -- piece of testimony and maybe more uncomfortable than Comey's was and maybe better watched than Comey's was. But I think that's the argument that you're going to hear from Michael Cohen, which is, you know, I didn't do it for me. I was dumb and I did it for him and now I'm trying to set it right.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: Yes, and Michael Zeldin coming in on this conversation now, you used to work with Robert Mueller. When he was charged in court, right. When we saw him in court that day in New York. You heard from the White House over that period of time as Michael Cohen being essentially an enemy of Donald Trump's at that point in time them saying he was a liar. But at the same time legal experts including yourself said, Michael Cohen is someone who worked with the special counsel. The special counsel wasn't doing on my honor with Michael Cohen, they were corroborating whatever he was telling them. He's going to be before Congress. He's going to be under oath. I mean, this is -- there will be consequence if he lies. What are the biggest unanswered questions that you will be looking to have answered?

MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I think that most important in this moment is whether Michael Cohen appears to be credible. Because he has been attacked every which way that he is a liar, they called him a rat, a snitch, whatever. And so, the question is, like John Dean, as someone said, testifying in the Watergate committee, does he appear credible? Ultimately as a matter of bringing a lawsuit, a criminal case, et cetera, they'll need corroborative evidence. But most important for Cohen is does he present himself as a believable witness. I think Gloria's exactly right. He has a way of saying, I lied then to protect another. I am now telling the truth.

The question is, will people believe that he's telling the truth or do they believe that this is really still a continuation of the lies of Michael Cohen in an effort now to convince the court to further reduce his sentence. Because remember, he didn't get a great deal of reduction of sentence in New York and maybe they're saying to Cohen, if you do this, it can help you. So there's a big credibility contest here and that's what I would think I would look for most as we hear him on February 7th.

KEILAR: All right. Michael, I want to bring in John Dean who we have been talking a lot about, former White House counsel to Richard Nixon. He is joining me now on the phone. Sir, when you see this -- as someone who went through hearings that really turned the tide when it came to Richard Nixon being in deep trouble and ultimately resigning, when you see that Michael Cohen is going to be testifying publicly, what is your initial reaction?

JOHN DEAN, FORMER NIXON WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL (via phone): I think it's healthy for the public understanding of what's going on. Michael Cohen has deep knowledge and wide knowledge of President Trump and what happened during the campaign. And so we're finally putting a face on somebody who can talk with authority about these events.

KEILAR: When you testified before Congress, there were a lot of things you said that some people dismissed as just outrageous, people who supported President Nixon, they didn't want to believe them and at first, they didn't. It was a while before they did. Do you see any parallels there with the reaction that you would expect from supporters of President Trump's?

DEAN: I was attacked not only by Nixon's supporters and surrogates, I was attacked by Nixon in a number of his national addresses. The tapes certainly resolved who was telling the truth and I'm not quite sure how it all would have turned out had there not been tapes. But I understand that Michael Cohen has tapes as well. And I'm sure Trump doesn't know which ones he does or does not have since it was Cohen who was doing the taping.

KEILAR: Go on, sorry.

DEAN: I was just going to say, so that could change the dynamic and -- but I do expect he -- I'm sure braced to be attacked as he will be.

KEILAR: When you said -- and that was going to be my next question about the tapes because President Nixon having taped conversations in the oval office, that was really what did him in. I know you said that Michael Cohen has some tapes, do you see those potentially as equal to tapes? Do you see that people would believe Michael Cohen without some sort of indisputable, corroborating evidence?

DEAN: I don't see them as being as wide and broad as Nixon's which were secretly done. It's clear that Nixon at times understood he was taping.

[15:35:00] There are other times he clearly forgot he was taping because he had a voice activated system. Michael Cohen appears to have had a pocket tape recorder in the few we've heard where he was in -- he would walk into a meeting with Trump, something of that nature. So, I don't know how many tapes there are, but certainly there's no motive for Cohen to lie at this time about his work with Trump. While he agreed to plead in the southern district, he really doesn't have a cooperation agreement because they wanted to know about even more, I think and I don't think he was ready to go there.

KEILAR: What are the biggest questions for you that Cohen may address?

DEAN: I think explaining in full for the public how the payoffs were made of hush money for the women who were making apparently well based claims against Trump for having affairs and wanted to talk about it. That'll certainly be primary. I don't know how much he'll go into Russia. He doesn't seem to be a key witness in the Russia matter, but an important one. Because we know he spent a lot of hours and the special counsel sent a letter to his sentencing judge saying what a good witness he was, so I don't know how all that will play out.

KEILAR: What -- it seems, John, that, you know, a lot of Democrats look at the President being implicated in those finance, those campaign finance charges and they don't seem won over by that, that doesn't seem big enough for them to cross a threshold of even discussing the idea of impeachment. So, when Michael Cohen knows about the Trump Tower/Moscow project and we know that he lied about when he was still involved talking to the President about it, what can he speak to -- what will Congress, what will Democrats want to know about that do you think?

DEAN: Well, many of the Republicans who don't see campaign finance violations as particularly serious are the same people who did see as very serious the fact that Bill Clinton had an affair with his intern. So their standards seem to change very easily and I think that campaign law violations, particularly if you're colluding with another country to get elected, are pretty serious.

So we don't know -- that I don't expect is going to come out. I don't know where the oversight committee's going to go. They're certainly going to go into the area of the payoffs that he's pled to. But I suspect there will be some withholding of information on the Russia investigation because -- unless by the time he testifies Mueller has released his information and Cohen can shed light on it.

KEILAR: All right, John Dean, former White House counsel for President Nixon, standby for me as I bring in MJ Lee. And MJ, this has really been the story that you have covered now for so long. You've covered Stormy Daniels. You've covered Karen McDougal and these hush money payoffs as all of this developed as we learned that actually the President did know about this. And that the money was his essentially. What is your reaction to this breaking news into CNN that Michael Cohen, the former personal attorney of President Trump, really his fixer, is going to be in that hot seat publicly before Congress?

MJ LEE, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, to say something obvious but in the big picture that I think is so important is that we have not heard from Michael Cohen in a really long time in a real way, right. As we were waiting for months for him to be sentenced and as these various investigations were going on, he really was not speaking to the press. He was very careful to not make extended public statements. So this idea that he is going to be testifying before Congress in a public way and, you know, putting on this sort of prolonged performance, if you want to be cynical about it, that is going to be really significant because we really have not seen him in that context. And keep in mind, he has testified before Congress before but not in a public way. And when he did that, he was still a person who -- and he would admit this himself now -- he was still loyal to the President. He was politically motivated. He wanted to protect Trump and now that is no longer the case. He has done a complete 180 in terms of his allegiance to the President and he has admitted as much. So this is going to be a very, very different Michael Cohen with different motivations that we see really for the first time.

[15:40:04]And as far as what I'm interested in, hearing from Michael Cohen, I'm actually less interested in what he has to say about these hush payments. Because those things have actually been pretty well documented in all of our reporting and what has come out from the SDNY investigation. And really important to point out that Michael Cohen, AMI and SDNY are basically all in agreement at this point. They have stated in some manner or another that President Trump directed Michael Cohen to handle these payments and that they were improper or illegal.

What we don't have as much information on is the Russia piece of it. We know that Michael Cohen has pled guilty already to lying to Congress about this Moscow project, but we don't have the full details, I think, in the same way that we do on these hush payments. So that's what I'm more interested in.

KEILAR: Yes, because why was he lying? Right? That's part of the question. Obviously to protect Donald Trump. But why at the risk that he took on? I want to bring Elie Honig, former prosecutor in the Southern District of New York, Ellie. You heard our MJ Lee saying, yes, a lot of this is documented when it comes to Michael Cohen's involvement, AMI, the parent company of the "National Enquirer" who would do catch and kill in the case -- certainly in the case of Karen McDougal to squash her story. What are you thinking that Congress might learn when it comes to the Russia piece of this as M.J. said she's curious about?

ELIE HONIG, FORMER ASSISTANT U.S. ATTORNEY, SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK: And so, a couple things, Brianna. First of all, this is going to be a whole new ballgame. Everything that we've learned thus far from and about Michael Cohen has happened in a very controlled setting with strict rules and procedures. It's all come in sort of solemn formal court proceedings in court papers. This is going to be an open game. He's going to be there answering questions live. He's not going to know what's coming. Some of the legislators are going to be trying to make him look good, others are going to be trying to trip him up.

On the Moscow project issue, I would have several questions for him. We know he lied to Congress about the Moscow project. He said it ended in January 2016. We know in fact it went many months beyond that into the summer. So, my first question for him would be, who was in on this? Was this a coordinated lie? Did you meet with anyone else in the White House to say, OK, let's get our stories straight?

On the hush money payments, my first couple questions for him would be, in your papers, you pled guilty to making these payments and it was two people who authorized and cut those checks from the Trump org, executive one and two and I would ask him, OK, Michael, who's executive one and two, let's hear it?

KEILAR: And you think he'll say that? You don't think he's going to hold anything back, right? HONIG: I don't think he has any basis to. If these up there

testifying, I don't think he can selectively -- he's already pled guilty and been sentenced. So, I don't think he has a basis for saying I'll answer this but not that.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: The only question, though, is whether or not -- and Manu read a statement from Adam Schiff, the intelligence committee chair -- who said he wants to see Michael Cohen in closed session about things relating to Russia whether or not Michael Cohen will be able to answer some of those questions that you were talking about, MJ, and you as well. Because A, it's part of the Mueller investigation or B, perhaps it's still considered, you know, confidential.

HONIG: And that's an important point. I think it's critical that Michael Cohen deconflict as prosecutors say, meaning, it doesn't do anything to get in the way of Mueller, what he's looking at, doesn't out any secrets, anything classified or confidential.

KEILAR: How is that -- you hear Democrats say they don't want to do that, Eli. How is that possible to do fully? I mean, that seems almost impossible to execute perfectly.

HONIG: There's only one way to really do it fully -- I don't want to field speculation -- but if the report is out before he testifies, right? That's the only absolute way to make sure he doesn't -- and even then, it's not foolproof. But if he's testifying in front of the TV cameras and the House and Senate before that report comes out, it's a very fine line to walk in. I don't think there's a way to reliable ensure he doesn't say anything that he shouldn't.

LEE: Also, I think it's going to be interesting to see, you know, the President has already had a pretty hard time keeping himself in check when it comes to matters related to Michael Cohen and up until this point, as I was saying earlier, Michael Cohen has not been able to really be vocal about these issues. So now that we're going to have a day of Michael Cohen openly testifying in Congress and it'll be a day's worth of coverage. And it'll be a very big day for Michael Cohen in terms of him coming out with his story and telling his story in this way.

Just imagine the potential reaction that we're going to see from the President as he looks up and sees Michael Cohen, his former lawyer, saying all of these things in such a public setting. You know, I think our White House reporters would probably agree that that is going to have a tremendous impact on the President, his mood and how he potentially decides to lash out.

KEILAR: And Gloria, they're going to ask some questions you would think about not just -- this is what we learned.

[15:45:00] Michael Cohen not only was in touch with the President, he was in touch with the family, right? He was in touch with leaders in the Trump organization. Well their last names are generally Trump, right?

BORGER: Right.

KEILAR: So we would expect to learn something about that.

BORGER: Yes, look, I think Michael Cohen, as you point out, doesn't know what questions will be asked but he's going to be prepared to answer everything. Which is why if I were Rudy Giuliani or Donald Trump who have been out there attacking Michael Cohen's credibility for months now and he has not been answering them back publicly, I'd be a little concerned about what he's going to be saying and how detailed he will be in his answers.

I think in one sense, I think Cohen -- if it's possible wants to try and fix his reputational damage. I mean, look, he's going to jail and his friends would say it's because he lied to protect Donald Trump. And what he, I believe, is trying to do is kind of say, you know, I did it for that guy and he's really the bad guy and let me -- let me now answer what Donald Trump has been saying about me and what Rudy Giuliani has been saying about me and let me tell you the truth. And then it's going to be the court of public opinion here.

I don't know if this is going to do anything for Michael Cohen's legal problems, but in terms of the court of public opinion about Donald Trump, I think this is going to be, you know, well watched and very interesting to see the way the public -- the way the public reacts. We know how Donald Trump reacted to James Comey and his testimony. He ended up firing Comey. He can't fire Michael Cohen any longer. So now he's just going to have to respond and how does the President respond to whatever Michael Cohen says or does he?

KEILAR: Shimon, there are some things, right, that Michael Cohen may not be able to reveal?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Yes, I do think when it comes to the Russia investigation and we'll see where we are in a few weeks certainly. He will be limited because I do think that he does know information that Mueller's still working through and it may not even be Mueller in the end. We could have a prolonged Department of Justice, FBI investigation into Russians even once Mueller is done. So that could still go on.

But I also think that right now, think of it this way, is that where the President really has the most problems is the hush payments. Right. We've said this, Michael Cohen is coming to court, has implicated the President in that, the Department of Justice in their court filings has implicated the President. And that's where I think the members of Congress here are going to be focused on. It's kind of how did all of this play out. When did the President know? What did the President tell you? When did the President tell you to make these payments? How was this scheme put together? Who was part of it? We have some idea of this but we don't have a full readout. We don't have a complete picture of exactly play-by-play of how the President was involved. How things were directed. Who came up with what decisions here. And I think that is where members of Congress are going to have a lot of interest in and I also think that's where the public is going to be really interested. It's the cover-up here. There was obviously a massive cover-up that the Department of Justice has said occurred here and that is where I think Michael Cohen is going to play the biggest part in.

Michael Zeldin, what -- do you think that the Mueller investigation will have come to a close and assuming we get to see the report publicly, do you think that that will have happened by this point, by February 7th when Michael Cohen is now going to be testifying publicly about Congress?

ZELDIN: I would be very surprised. There are two things that work against that. One is that he's extended his grand jury for six more months, Mueller has. And he's still litigating now in the Supreme Court over foreign evidence that he thinks is relevant to his Russia probe. So he's got two open issues that indicate sort of against a February 7th close date.

I also think to Elie's point, there has to be concern that Michael Cohen doesn't say anything in this case that could taint anything that Mueller is investigating just like Oliver North did when he testified publicly and tainted the prosecution.

But to one point that I think you've been driving at, Brianna, is that Michael Cohen said that the Trump Tower project extended six months longer than the Donald Trump statement about it. In the Mueller memorandum on sentencing, he said that Cohen was in touch with the White House during the period of time when he testified falsely before Congress and that his -- the implication of it was that his testimony was socialized within the White House before he testified.

[15:50:00] That I think if I were a prosecutor or I was a Congressman, I'd want to drill down on. Because if there's evidence that the President here did something with respect to that testimony akin to what he did on Air Force One in the Donald Trump June 9th Trump Tower meeting, which is falsify that statement. That is very problematic legally and also a very much more easily proven case, and it's perjury. That's what got Bill Clinton in the soup, much more so than I think the Stormy Daniels, Karen McDougal case would.

KEILAR: And Eli -- sorry, go on, Gloria.

BORGER: You're talking about coordination a false testimony. And who was that administration official that Michael Cohen spoke with --

ZELDIN: Exactly.

BORGER: -- about his testimony. And we don't know who that was. And how extensive was that coordination of false testimony if, indeed, it existed?

KEILAR: And, Elie, it's hard to imagine that that does not come up and that Michael Cohen does not say, certainly, that he felt some pressure from the White House or, you know, someone in the circle of President Trump with how he might represent himself, right? If he has said that part of the reason that he lied was because he was trying to protect Donald Trump, isn't it reasonable to assume that he was looking for some guidance on how to best do that and that we'll now learn sort of how that process played out? HONIG: Yes. Look, this is fairly standard back and forth any time

someone is a cooperating witness. Because before they were with the person and now, they're testifying against the person. And so you can expect Michael Cohen -- he'll be attacked from all angles. He already has been attacked. Donald Trump surely will just say he's a liar. Anyone who supports Trump will probably say the same thing and people who are against Trump may instinctively say no, he's not. He's telling the truth. We have to look at what are his motives and what is the corroboration? Right. Corroboration, how is he backed up? Look at the tapes, look at the financial documents. Look at all the things that support him. That's ultimately what it comes down to.

And the second question that we've been kicking around, is what his possible motive for doing this? Now can think of two. First of all for the historical record. He may want to go down as a John Dean. Somebody who made a clean break and sort of did the right thing for his country.

BASH: That's what his team is telling Gloria Borger.

HONIG: Right. That's the more noble motive. And I think that could be part of it. The more sort of selfish motive is there actually is one way he might be able to get a sentencing reduction. He's already been sentenced to 36 months. He has to surrender in March to serve his prison sentence. There is a rule on the books, it's called rule 35. And it says if the prosecutor goes back to the judge after sentencing, you can get a further reduction. Now the prosecutor has to be on board. Southern District wasn't thrilled with him. It's possible Mueller could that prosecutor. But I think he's continuing to audition and play for that kind of additional sentencing relief.

KEILAR: Dana, I'm going to tell you, the weirdest thing is happening. You all sound like robots and have for about two minutes. I don't understand a single thing we're saying. So while we try to get this figured out on my end. If you could actually take over here as we are following this breaking news.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: -- and they've asked, by the way, we have lists of things. What they need more than anything is the barrier, the wall, call it whatever you want, whether it's steel or concrete, you don't care. We need a barrier. And they have done a fantastic job. Never so many apprehensions ever in our history, but, you know, it could be a lot easier. It could be a lot easier for you and you could spread your people out to different areas, which would also be very helpful.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And Mr. President we have 55 miles of fencing in this sector. We started a job in 2006. We need to finish that job. We've got the personnel. We need the technology. We need the resources. We need the infrastructure in order to control this border and manage it. Part of our area is covered with some fencing on our east side. That accounts for about 6 percent of our traffic. Where we have no fencing, over 90 percent of our traffic occurs in those areas.

TRUMP: OK, folks? I mean, you don't have to say anymore. That's it. That's it. And we never even spoke before this, right?


TRUMP: I never told you to say that.


TRUMP: I should have, except he said it perfectly, all right? Look, look, this is common sense. They need a barrier. They need a wall. If you don't have it, it's going to be nothing but hard work and grueling problems. And, by the way, and death, and death. A lot of death. I want to thank you.

KEILAR: All right. Audio problem solved here. I want to bring in Phil Mattingly for us. So, Phil, we are now in day 20 of this shutdown. The border wall is the big issue. You have some news on negotiations. What's going on?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, to the extent any negotiations were occurring. And clearly, Brianna, you know, as well as I do, at the highest levels they've completely broken down. It's a complete impasse, it's a complete stalemate. But last night, a small group of Republican senators, senior legislators who are trying to figure out some way out of this.

[15:55:04] Did get together, were starting to bat around an idea. Basically what they were working for was give the President money for his wall, billions of dollars for his wall in exchange for temporary permits for DACA recipients, those DREAMers who were brought to the country by their parents. That lasted all of about 18 hours. Brianna, that deal, those talks have completely fallen through.

Lindsey Graham who was leading the group spoke to reporters just a short while ago and said it's one of the most depressing things he has ever been part of, this current moment right now. And said, as far as he can see, there is no path forward. And he also just took to Twitter. He was basically tweeting that the only thing going on right now that could actually get some play, is the President declaring a national emergency. Which, obviously, we know the President has been considering. That's how bad things are on Capitol Hill right now.

This group wasn't exactly given a high chance of success. Everybody knows that when it comes to immigration generally, we're talking about broad deals, this has fallen apart repeatedly over the course of the last five, six years. Most recently last year. You talk to Democrats, there's no trust right now between Democrats and the administration. Which is one of the biggest issues with any possible bigger deal coming together. But even the little hints that something might have been possible, that has fallen through as well. And so when we're talking to aides on Capitol Hill right now, when you're talking to lawmakers, frankly, on Capitol Hill right now, I think everybody is in agreement that this is just going to last longer. You talk about -- given tomorrow is the day when 800,000 people -- 800,000 federal workers will be losing their paychecks and won't get their paychecks for the first time during the shutdown. Is there any conclusion coming to this anytime soon? People I'm talking to, Brianna, say this isn't a days' issue right now, this is a week's issue and there is no clear way out at all.

KEILAR: Ye, those people don't have weeks. Actually, we've been able to turn around the sound from the Senator Lindsey Graham, Phi, so I want to talk about this with you. Let's listen.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I have never been more depressed about moving forward been right now. I just don't see a pathway forward. Somebody is going to like get some energy to fix this.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you think that Congress would prevent the President from declaring a national emergency?

GRAHAM: I think the House would, for sure. I don't know what I would do. I'm open minded to it being a crisis. The statute is pretty clear that you have to have Congressional buy-in. Some people worry about the precedent you set on our side. Whether you could hold all the Republicans, I don't know. Whether you could pick up a Democrat, I doubt it. So at the end of the day, I don't know if this bears fruit statutorily. I'm a pretty hawkish guy on powers of the commander in chief. You try to do this under inherent authority under commander in chief Article II. Saying, you know, I'm commander in chief, this is a national security event. I'm going to redirect funding for traditional military functions to border security, I wouldn't have a problem with that.


KEILAR: Dana Bash, that is a bleak outlook coming from Senator Graham. He's been around a long time. He says this is very depressing. And I'm thinking of all the people who are having to pay for this. And it's not Congress and it's not the President. It's people who are out of a paycheck.

BASH: Yes, who can't pay for groceries, maybe starting tomorrow, maybe now or their mortgages. And maybe the recommendations on government websites for, you know, making your hobby a career and learning to do other tasks like carpentry aren't really realistic for people. It's horrible. It is.

I will say that I spoke briefly to the Senator this afternoon, who gave me the same sentiment, slightly different language, but it certainly speaks to how bad things are. And sometimes you hear senators, and you know this, Brie. Because we covered many of these kinds of negotiations together, say these things to make it dire, and to make it seem like things aren't going to come together right before they do come together. That's not happening here. This is genuine. This is general frustration and genuine nowheresville when it comes to negotiations. Because they're trying to come up with a plan that Democrats are not interested in listening to. Democrats are trying to come up with a border security plan that Republicans, starting with the President, aren't interested in listening to because it doesn't have the wall and vice versa. And that's where we are. KEILAR: And we're almost out of time, Dana, but tell me if I am just

being too Pollyanna or optimistic. When after a paycheck is missed, I struggle to see how there isn't enough pressure for Congress to do something here. It is within their power. Is that Pollyanna?

No. I mean, I think it's optimistic. And we have to have some optimism in these times, especially since we have seen grown-ups get into a room, you and I have seen it in the past. It's very different times right now. But let's hope that dire situation for 800,000 people out there, really dire, who don't have much to fall back on financially, will see the government open and see their paychecks coming through because Congress will find a way to do it or, you know, whether that means that or the President using his own executive power. We'll see.

KEILAR: All right, Dana Bash, thank you so much for everything this hour and our special coverage continues with Jake Tapper.