Return to Transcripts main page


Michael Cohen to Testify Publicly Before Congress on February 7th; White House Working to Keep Mueller's Report from Going Public; Trump Closer to Declaring Emergency to Pay for His Wall. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired January 11, 2019 - 09:00   ET


[09:00:33] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: A very good Friday morning to you. I'm Jim Sciutto in Washington.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Poppy Harlow in New York. We're glad you're with us.

The day that 800,000 federal workers have been dreading for three weeks now is here. It is payday without a paycheck. This is what it looks like when the president refuses to re-up funding for one-fourth of the federal government unless he gets a border wall and Democrats refuse to vote for funds for the border wall.

SCIUTTO: It's a tough Friday for a lot of Americans. Having shot down the latest attempt by a few Senate Republicans to try to compromise, the president seems closer than ever to funding his wall, his barrier, by declaring a national emergency and diverting military funds earmarked for disaster relief projects. But while that might solve his problem, it wouldn't help workers at the TSA, in the FBI, the FDA and dozens of other agencies who remain either furloughed or required to stay on the job for free, no pay.

HARLOW: No pay. Let's go to our colleague Vanessa Yurkevich who has met quite a few of those workers at an unemployment office in Brooklyn.

They had nothing to do with it this, but they are the ones feeling the brunt of it. What can you tell us?

VANESSA YURKEVICH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Hi, Jim and Poppy. I have spoken to multiple workers this morning, many who are having to file for unemployment on a day when they were expecting to get paid.

I want to give you some statistics that are pretty wild. We spoke to the Department of Labor and they told us that 5,000 federal employees applied for unemployment in the last week of December. That is up 400 percent from the week before. So who is eligible? Contractors who work for the federal government and also furloughed employees. Those are employees who are not working and not getting paid.

But those workers who are on the job right now and are bit getting paid cannot apply for unemployment. We spoke to one of those people who's pretty frustrated. Take a listen.


STANN KAPLAN, ENFORCEMENT ANALYST, HUD: When I filed they asked me why I didn't file sooner. They said I should have done it right away. As a furloughed employee you're entitled. I just said I was kind of waiting to see if any word came out, whether we'd get paid or whether this shutdown would end.

JUNE BENCEBI, AFGE LOCAL 2005: We are angry because we want to come to work. We want to be able to feed our kids. We want to be able to pay our bills. And because we don't know when this shutdown is going to end, every time we make a decision it hurts someone else. We are in the same situation as a furloughed worker. We are not getting paid. So I feel we should be able to collect unemployment.


YURKEVICH: And Jim and Poppy, we spoke to local labor unions who represent many of the federal workers who are being affected by the shutdown. And they told us this next week they are expecting to see a big, big uptick in the amount of their members who are eligible to file for unemployment. And if the government does re-open any time soon and they are paid back those unemployment checks are going to have to go right back to offices just like this behind me -- Jim and Poppy.

HARLOW: So they're going to have to figure out, Vanessa, how to pay back the unemployment money that they got? Like as if they don't have enough to worry about. OK. Wow.

Thank you, Vanessa, very much.


HARLOW: For the reporting. Jim?

SCIUTTO: Well, President Trump is considering declaring a national emergency to bypass Congress. In fact he's being encouraged by a number of Republican lawmakers now in Congress now. And according to one U.S. official he is eyeing disaster relief funds to pay for the border wall. That is money earmarked for things like storm relief in Puerto Rico and Texas.

Let's go live to the White House with CNN White House correspondent Abby Philip.

So taking money that was intended for elsewhere including the Defense Department and funneling it to the wall. I mean, how close are we to the president making this declaration?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Jim. That's just the latest option that the president has at his disposal according to our sources. But it's not clear today whether we are much closer to the president actually making a final decision on this. In part because there is still some disagreement in the White House about whether this is the right course of action. But as you have pointed out, the frustration that we are hearing is mounting on Capitol Hill where Republican lawmakers are really feeling the heat, especially today as we are really marking the possibility that this is likely to become the longest shutdown in this country's history.

[09:05:05] And they're urging the president to basically hit the eject button and take an escape valve. One of the president's top allies, Senator Lindsey Graham, said this week that he is pretty much hopeless. He doesn't believe that there is a path forward on negotiations. And he believes the president should use this emergency power to move here.

But just listen to how these same Republicans, including Lindsey Graham, just a few years ago when the president in question was President Obama was talking about what it would mean if a president were to use these extraordinary powers to do something without Congress.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: This is wrong. It's irresponsible. And will do damage to our efforts to fix a broken immigration system. This is a tremendous presidential overreach. I will try to defund the effort for him to go it alone. We will challenge him in court.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), MINORITY LEADER: Imposing his will unilaterally may seem tempting. It may serve him politically in the short term. But he knows it will make an already broken system even more broken. And he knows this is not how democracy is supposed to work.


PHILLIP: And the "Wall Street Journal" is also reporting that among the aides cautioning the president against this decision are Jared Kushner and Kellyanne Conway, both of whom are suggesting that the president should continue with the negotiations on the Hill. Conway, according to the "Journal," is basically saying that taking executive action lets Congress off the hook.

That being said, President Trump seems pretty set on this. He said he's almost certain to do this if he feels negotiations are failing. But he said also that we'll see over the next couple of days. Meanwhile, federal workers are still waiting for their paychecks. A couple of days really is quite a long time -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: Yes. It's an interesting argument there that some in Congress may want the relief of a national emergency declaration because then they won't have to deal with the actual negotiations.

Abby Phillip, thanks very much. Poppy?

HARLOW: All right. Jim, thank you.

So net pay, zero. Zero dollars. That's real. That is an air traffic controller's shutdown paycheck. And even though workers knew it was coming it is still very hard to see. Joining me now is William Striffler, the air traffic controller who

has been working, protecting us all who got that paycheck.

William, thank you for being here. And I'm so sorry that it's under these circumstances.


HARLOW: Good morning. So tell me what it was like the moment that you opened that and saw that.

STRIFFLER: You know, we've been working knowing that it was coming. And when it hit yesterday it really hit. You know, my wife is 39 weeks pregnant. We're expecting a baby next week. And this really struck a nerve. Like this should be one of the happiest moments of our lives. And you know, we have this hanging over our heads. It's really an unfortunate situation to have to worry about that.

HARLOW: And you shouldn't have to. First of all, congratulations on the baby. Boy or girl? Do you know?

STRIFFLER: It's going to be a girl.

HARLOW: She will have daddy's heart. She will have daddy's heart. Congratulations to you, guys. But I know this is weighing on you. Theresa, your wife, due next Friday. I understood at one point she's been considering collecting disability. I mean, how are you planning to get through if this doesn't change and change soon?

STRIFFLER: Well, yes, she went out on disability last week. And of course there was a hiccup with the paperwork. They are trying to resolve that with her company. So we have no idea when she's going to receive her next paycheck. We have savings that will get us through a few months. And you know, our family members offered to help as much as they can. But it's an unfortunate situation. We don't want to put them, you know, in any unnecessary financial issues.

HARLOW: Yes. Well, so this is really affecting both of you. You're not getting your paycheck from the federal government. She is at this point because of this glitch and slowdown in the paperwork because of the shutdown not getting her disability yet. And you're having to rely on your savings. I mean, given all of this, what is your message to your representative in Congress?

STRIFFLER: That we don't want to be used as political pawns. We just want to, you know, know that we're going to go to work, we're going to get paid. And don't have to worry about the stress. And we have a stressful enough job as it is. But this is really, you know, going to start hitting hard. And people are going to start feeling the effects. My co-workers already starting (INAUDIBLE), some of them get shook up after worrying about how they're going to, you know, pay for everything at home. They take care of their families. It's not a situation that is ideal.

HARLOW: Do you ascribe blame more to one party or the other, more to Congress, more to the president?

STRIFFLER: I don't want to blame anybody. I just want them to get together, finally resolve it and not use us as a pawn in either way. We just want to, you know, get back to work and get our paychecks.

HARLOW: And finally, in a letter to congressional leaders urging them to re-open the government the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, the union, writes this. "The shutdown and the resulting furloughs are rapidly eliminating the layers of redundancy on safety which is a national air space system -- on which the national air space system is built."

Are flyers less safe because of this?

[09:10:05] STRIFFLER: In the short-term, no. They're not less safe. But you have aviation experts who are responsible for replacing lightbulbs and fixing equipment. There's programs that are in place that are being worked on that are coming to a running halt. The Academy in Oklahoma is no longer going to have students. And we already have been facing a staffing issue for many years. So at some point it's going to catch up to things. But in the short-term, there is no issue.

HARLOW: William Striffler, thank you for working, even without a paycheck. I'm sorry you're having to go through this. And congratulations on the little girl on the way.

STRIFFLER: Thank you very much.


SCIUTTO: Listen to this next story. Really some good news here. Three months after her parents were murdered and she disappeared, 13- year-old Jayme Closs has now been found alive. Neighbors say that Closs was dirty, she was skinny when she was found last night in a remote area in northwestern Wisconsin just 60 miles it turns out from her home where she was taken.

That is where CNN's Ryan Young is standing by now.

Ryan, walk us through how she was discovered. It sounds like she herself escaped from her captor.

RYAN YOUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, absolutely. Some amazing details here. She was found in Gordon which is just about 60 miles away from here. A woman was walking her dog and she tells the "Star Tribune" that as she was walking her dog she noticed somebody coming in her direction and then realized it was Jayme. And she ran over to her. They started having a conversation and she confirmed it was Jayme. They ran to a neighbor's home and then dialed 911.

Extraordinary when you think about the thousands of people who were looking for her. The young lady apparently didn't even know where she was. There's been a lot of conversations about exactly what happens next. What we do know that 10 minutes later a suspect was arrested. So that played that part out here. But no one has seen this little girl for quite some time. It's been three months. In fact I just talked to the sheriff last month and I was asking him about his efforts.

They'd re-doubled down on the efforts to have billboards all across the state, they also have thousands of people looking for her. But all this kind of came to an end yesterday. Listen to her aunt talk about the shock and the joy about finally finding this little girl.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There were rumors earlier today. And I prayed and prayed they were true. And they come to not be true. I just shut myself totally down because I thought today was going to be the day. And then took my note. Two hours later that she was found, I just cannot believe this.


YOUNG: And just think about this, the idea that the phone call happened from the mom's cell phone after she was killed. No one has seen this little girl then. She's finally found. The suspect is arrested. So many questions here, guys. Of course we'll be able to ask those questions at 10:00 to figure out maybe who the suspect was, was she hurt at all, what happens next. So many things that you want to know but the good news here, that little girl has been found and luckily that neighbor was dialed 911.

I mean, it's so cold here. So you obviously understand as she was walking to try get away, you know what she was facing. Have all that for you later on.

SCIUTTO: Well, such a relief for her family. But this poor, poor girl, what she's been through here.

Ryan Young, thanks very much.

The White House is working to keep large parts of the Mueller report from going public so you can't see it. We're going to have the latest.

HARLOW: Plus, the president says a border wall will stop drugs from coming into the United States. But will it? Sanjay Gupta heads to the border to find out.

And uncertainty in the high court as Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg misses oral arguments all this week as she recovers from cancer surgery. What is at stake?

SCIUTTO: Typical Friday.


[09:15:00] POPPY HARLOW, CO-HOST, NEWSROOM: All right, welcome back. House Democrats flex their muscles, President Trump's former lawyer Michael Cohen will testify publicly before the House Oversight Committee in just a few weeks. This is now set to happen on February 7th before he reports to prison. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to three years in prison on several charges including finance crimes tied to the payments he made to silence women who had stories of alleged affairs with the president during the campaign.

Now, he has since cooperated with the Mueller investigation extensively. And this hearing could mean we learn some never before her details. House Oversight Chairman Elijah Cummings says Mueller's team did clear Cohen's testimony, Jim.

JIM SCIUTTO, CO-HOST, NEWSROOM: Meantime, the White House is working to make sure the findings from Robert Mueller's Russia probe never go public so that you and I can't see it. Joining me now, Cnn political correspondent Sara Murray.

So the White House beefing up his legal team, they want to make a fight here, claim executive privilege. I mean, that I suppose is a legal question. But in terms of process, can the White House block it? Because I assume they would have to share with Congress and then members on the Hill could make their own decision. Couldn't they?

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I mean, I think that the White House could -- I mean, they can certainly try. And a lot of this is going to actually be up to probably Bill Barr, the incoming Attorney General, assuming he is confirmed to decide -- even want to share with Congress.

I mean, there are some specific things they have to share with Congress, like if there was a disagreement about who to prosecute or some other major decision. But there's not really a lot that says this has to be made public or even it has to be shared.

And I think the reason that they're looking at this sort of executive privilege thing so wildly is because we know they're not going to bring charges against the president. They're operating right now under this Justice Department guidelines.

And so when you look at the question of obstruction, the White House wants to shield the American public from learning any details about the possibility that the president may have tried to obstruct justice. And one way for them to do it is to say these conversations are all covered by executive --

SCIUTTO: Right --

MURRAY: Privilege, they should never be made public. And either, there's reason for them to worry. And the story that our colleagues Evan Perez and Pam Brown put out, they're saying Mueller's team is actually looking at the president's public statements as an indication that he could have lied about things --

SCIUTTO: Right --

MURRAY: Along the way. And that could be obstruction -- SCIUTTO: Or try to influence witnesses, et cetera. So that's only

obstruction question. How about on the Russia conspiracy collusion question. Can that be blocked via executive power?

MURRAY: I think that one is going to be harder. I mean, if you look at the questions that they answered from Mueller's team, the president's legal team answered questions that got to the idea of collusion or coordination with Russians.

[09:20:00] They refused to answer any questions about obstruction of justice in part because they said, you know, this is -- this is executive privilege.

SCIUTTO: Right --

MURRAY: So I think that that will be harder for them to shield. And you know, ultimately, I do think you are going to see a lot of pressure, we've already seen it from some members in Congress to say we need to see --


MURRAY: A fulsome report and then --


MURRAY: You know, we'll see how much of that makes it public to the American people.

SCIUTTO: I'm sure Bill Barr, the nominee will be asked about his position on making this public --

MURRAY: You bet --

SCIUTTO: During confirmation hearings next week. Sara Murray, thanks very much. Poppy?

HARLOW: Much to discuss here, let's bring in Cnn chief legal analyst to the former federal prosecutor Jeffrey Toobin and Washington Bureau chief for "The Daily Beast" Jackie Kucinich. Good morning guys.


HARLOW: Jeff -- good morning. Let me speak with you on the legal aspect of part of this and that is Cohen's public testimony, OK, because we know he can't just say everything. He can't disclose a lot of what he's talked about with Mueller's team on the Russia probe.

But he can say a lot of other things. What do you think this means to the president, and legally how significant do you expect it to be?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, STAFF WRITER, THE NEW YORKER & CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I think it's very significant politically. I don't think --

HARLOW: Yes -- TOOBIN: There is going to be a legal case here. I mean, the

president is not going to be indicted by Mueller. There is Justice Department policy against that. And the question is will the -- will this investigation lead to impeachment which is a political process more than a legal process?

And I think it's -- there is going to be very open questioning of Cohen during his testimony on February 7th. Remember, there are no rules of evidence at a congressional hearing. So he can be asked all hearsay questions. What did Donald Trump say to you about Stormy Daniels?

What did he say about Karen McDougal? What did he say about the -- you know, other women that you were -- that he may or may not been involved with. On the issue of Russia, as according to Adam Schiff who is the chairman of the Intelligence Committee, Cohen will testify about all of those issues in closed session in -- before the Intelligence Committee.

So he will be asked about that, but not on February 7th and in public. But I don't think there are going to be a lot of limits on what Cohen can testify about. I think he's determined to tell his story in full.


SCIUTTO: Jackie, a danger for the president here is that Cohen is an interesting place, and that he's already -- he's already pled guilty, he's going to jail.

KUCINICH: Right --

SCIUTTO: So he has less incentive to sort of hide, right? Take the Fifth as it were. He's already out there, he knows he's going to prison. That's got to be a concern for this president because, you know, except for the Russia stuff which may be behind closed doors, on other issues he can be very public.

KUCINICH: Certainly, and they're going to be asking about Trump Tower Moscow, how much the president directed payments to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal. And I think you're going to see the president's viewpoint very clearly reflected by the Republicans on the panel.

You've already had Jim Jordan who is the ranking member on Oversight say -- start talking about Cohen's credibility because he already lied to Congress once. And I think that's going to be echoed throughout the rest of the panel in terms on the Republican side.

They're really going to try to protect the president much like they did until they lost Congress.

HARLOW: You know, that's a really good point about the credibility argument that's going to be brought up here by juror(ph) and the other Republicans. Jeffrey --

KUCINICH: And he lied to Congress.

HARLOW: Yes, that is a fact that he admitted to, right --


HARLOW: Jeffrey, on the executive power and the limits of that by the White House in this beefed up legal team because their push to ostensibly it seems to keep the Mueller report private and how much of it is -- Sara Murray just laid up, will be up to the Attorney General if Bill Barr is confirmed. How do you see that playing out?

TOOBIN: Well, I think it's really the big issue of the Barr confirmation hearings next week.

HARLOW: Yes --

TOOBIN: I think the issue of Mueller being fired is sort of in the past at this point. You know, Mueller's --

HARLOW: Yes --

TOOBIN: Investigation --

HARLOW: Right --

TOOBIN: Is somewhere towards the end. You know, how long it has left, I don't really know. But it does appear to be winding down. So I don't think there's much risk that he's going to be fired. But the issue of whether his report can be made public in part, in full, redacted, some or all.

That is going to be up to Bill Barr. He is going to be the supervisor of Mueller. And the regulation under which Mueller was appointed provides almost no guidance on that issue. I mean, there really -- there seems to be a lot of discretion up to the Attorney General in deciding whether this report will be made public.

[09:25:00] And you know, Rudy Giuliani has said a couple of different things on this. When I interviewed him several months ago, he said, well, you know, we have the right to object, but since we don't think there is anything the president did wrong, we probably won't object and let the whole --


TOOBIN: Report go public. He sort of backed off of that in recent months and said, no, we may decide to object under executive privilege, and that's what some of these lawyers who have been hired are investigating. I don't think that decision has been made yet about how much they will object to.


TOOBIN: But they certainly want to give themselves the option of objecting --

HARLOW: Yes --


SCIUTTO: Jackie --

TOOBIN: Disclosure.

SCIUTTO: Jackie, a lot of folks talk about Bill Barr's confirmation as being basically in the bag here. I mean, with all those key questions, you know, one of which Jeffrey laid out there, is that necessarily true?

KUCINICH: You know, so is -- I mean, I am not saying anything like this is going to happen, but so is Justice Kavanaugh before everything came out about him. These confirmation hearings can be very wily. Things can start coming out when you start digging into someone's background.

That said, it's true he really does seem to be on a fairly glide path into this position. But Democrats aren't going to make it easy for him. As Jeffrey alluded to, he's going to get a lot of questions about the Mueller report, how he will deal with Mueller, how he'll keep the president in check, particularly because of how the president treated his last Attorney General.

There is going to be a lot of -- a lot of questions about independence and how he can demonstrate that --


KUCINICH: So that's what I'm expecting next week.

SCIUTTO: Jeffrey Toobin, Jackie Kucinich, we're going to bring you those hearings next week.


SCIUTTO: You can certainly watch it here, thanks to both of you. A top Republican says if Democrats will not negotiate, then it is time for the president to declare an emergency and get his wall. Interestingly, that top Republican has said different things about executive powers in the past.

We're going to get a reaction from a Democratic lawmaker, that's next.