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Rep. Katie Hill Comments on Impeachment; Michael Cohen to Testify Publicly at House Oversight Committee Hearing; Mueller Examining Trump's Public Statements; Latest Racist Remarks from Steve King; Jayme Closs Found Alive. Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired January 11, 2019 - 10:30   ET


REP. KATIE HILL (D), CALIFORNIA: So I'm hoping I don't have to make that decision.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: Yes. You get it. You need this paycheck, is --

HILL: Yes.

HARLOW: -- what you're saying.

HILL: Yes. Absolutely.

HARLOW: Like these federal workers do.

Finally --

HILL: Yes.

HARLOW: -- on impeachment of the president, any potential impeachment, you have said, "Impeachment is the wrong conversation to be having right now." As you know, your fellow freshman congresswoman, Rashida Tlaib of -- of Michigan made a lot of waves when she used an expletive to explain how she feels Democrats should go after the president on impeachment.

HILL: Mm-hmm.

HARLOW: You know, you've said, "Playing nice isn't really in my vocabulary." But I'm wondering if you're in her camp. Do you agree with her when she says this? Listen.


RASHIDA TLAIB (D), MICHIGAN: He has to understand that the culture and this kind of dissent that he has from me is something that is felt across this country. I am not the only one that is this angry and this upset.


HARLOW: You with her on that?

HILL: I agree that she's not the only one that's this angry and this upset. I mean, he has -- he has really hurt so many people.

So I understand the sentiment. I think that the way that we approach it is through allowing the investigation to play out. I think that that the focus needs to be on how we're going to get him out in two years.

If there is something that we can use legitimately to get the nation on board -- you know, if we're trying to impeach him right now without the Republicans' support, it's going to go nowhere. And I think it can be really damaging for us, so that's why I say it's the wrong conversation.

But I think we really have to focus on how are we going to make sure that we elect a new president in two years, and that we elect a Senate that is truly supporting the American people.

HARLOW: Congresswoman Katie Hill, good luck. A busy --

HILL: Thank you.

HARLOW: -- few weeks. An important first few weeks on the job. We appreciate your time this morning.

HILL: Thank you so much.

HARLOW: The president's former personal attorney Michael Cohen will testify in public in front of Congress in just a few weeks. Everyone will be watching. So what can we expect, once we hear from the man who once said he'd take a bullet from the president? That's next.


[10:37:29] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: So this will be quite a moment. President Trump's former lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen will testify publicly before the House Oversight Committee. That hearing scheduled for February seventh, less than a month before Cohen reports to jail for a three-year sentence.

TEXT: Michael Cohen: Will testify before House Oversight Committee on February 7; Pleaded guilty to 9 counts; Sentenced to 3 years in prison; Ordered to surrender on March 6

SCIUTTO: Cohen pleaded guilty on several charges, including financial crimes tied to payments that he made to silence women during the campaign. He implicates the president in those crimes. He has since cooperated with the Mueller investigation.

House Oversight Chairman Elijah Cummings says that the Mueller team did clear Cohen's testimony before the committee.

HARLOW: Mm-hmm. Really significant. Happening soon.

Meanwhile, Robert Mueller's investigators are looking at false or misleading statements the president made publicly, that he made or his legal team may have made. And prosecutors are working to determine if those were an attempt to

influence witnesses, silence witnesses, obstruct justice. Sara Murray joins us now on that.

Look, the argument by the president's legal team is going to be -- from your reporting -- look, this is, you know, his First Amendment right.

But what kind of legal ground would Mueller's team be on to say, "Hey," you know, "this could constitute obstruction of justice."

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Sure. I mean, they would say, essentially, "You are using the bully pulpit to try to influence witnesses, to try to obstruct justice in some way."

And, you know, they could point back to the time Donald Trump was on Air Force One and helped craft that, you know, misleading statement about what happened in the Trump Tower meeting with the Russians during the campaign.

You know, they may look at the way that Donald Trump tried to persuade his former White House counsel, Don McGahn, to go out and insist, "No, no. I never threatened to resign because the president suggested," you know, "he wanted to fire Robert Mueller.

And, you know, Donald Trump has said a number of times that he never considered firing Robert Mueller, and there are other people in the White House who say, "You know, that's not exactly true."

And so investigators could look at these statements and say, you know, "We're not going to bring charges against the president. They're operating under DOJ guidelines on that."

But, you know, they may say, "We do believe that this president did try to obstruct justice and sort of lay out what they know from witnesses about what was happening behind the scenes versus what the president was saying publicly."

HARLOW: Exactly. All right. Sara Murray, thank you for the important reporting. Appreciate it.


SCIUTTO: For more on what this all means, let's bring in former NSA attorney Susan Hennessey.

Susan, thanks very much, as always. So Cohen's going to testify publicly, but privately on Russia-related stuff. But publicly on some key issues.

If he's going to jail for -- what can he add in that public testimony, do you think, that we don't already know?

[10:40:00] SUSAN HENNESSEY, FORMER ATTORNEY, NATIONAL SECURITY AGENCY: Right. So I think it's important to keep in mind that congressional testimony serves a completely different purpose than a federal investigation. So the purpose of congressional testimony really is to provide information to the public, provide information to legislators.

So, you know, we've seen the bare-bones outlines of the information --

TEXT: Issues That Could Come Up in House Oversight Hearing: Trump Tower Moscow Project: Cohen's lies to Congress about timeline; June 2016 Trump Tower meeting; Payments orchestrated, made to women during campaign

HENNESSEY: -- that Michael Cohen has provided federal prosecutors. We've seen that Michael Cohen has essentially accused the president of the United States of directing him to commit a crime.

But we haven't seen those interview transcripts.


HENNESSEY: We haven't seen sort of the color and detail and specificity that he might have given federal prosecutors in order to convince them --


HENNESSEY: -- that, "Hey, this really did happen."

And so that testimony might unearth all of that for the public to see.

SCIUTTO: Imagine -- imagine the president's long-time fixer and lawyer saying, in a public hearing, "The president told me to break the law." That'd be quite a remarkable moment.

HENNESSEY: I think it is a remarkable moment. It was -- it was stunning enough to actually have him stand up and accuse him of that in federal court.

I also think it might be more persuasive for the American people. Whenever they actually hear the detail, they hear Cohen make these statements under oath to them --


HENNESSEY: -- statements that are -- really, are against his own interests. You know, I do think that has the possibility of really dramatically shifting a public perception here.

SCIUTTO: He'll be -- unlike the court appearance, he'll be cross- examined, in effect, by members of Congress who will say, "What did the president say? He told you? Did he know he was breaking the law?" Et cetera. I mean, that will be quite a moment.

OK. Other issues? There are many here. CNN has learned that Mueller is analyzing President Trump's public statements as part of its obstruction of justice probe. You know, things like tweeting things that could be perceived as witness tampering, et cetera.

Now -- now, the president's legal team's going to say this is all First Amendment stuff, so therefore not relevant. You're a lawyer. Tell us how this would play out.

HENNESSEY: So, it's a little bit of an unusual legal theory. Ordinarily, whenever you're looking at statements that might qualify as obstruction of justice, it's whether or not you said something with an intent to -- of witness tampering, influencing a witness or otherwise corruptly impeding an investigation. So statements in public are not always -- are not commonly understood to qualify as -- as obstruction of justice.

However, there is some precedent. Things like people making -- uttering actual threats on social media, you know. But it is sort of an open legal theory.

I think the idea that the president's -- you know, he's absolutely protected under the First Amendment. That's a stretch. Clearly there are statements that can --


HENNESSEY: -- constitute obstruction of justice. But this is an area in which the fact of this -- this -- the notion that the president can't be indicted might actually be sort of a double-edged sword for the president because we probably aren't going to see these legal issues coming up in a court of law, where a judge can decide whether or not this is a valid legal theory.

If Mueller does allege that this is obstruction of justice in a report, it's going to be up for Congress to decide --


HENNESSEY: -- whether or not it -- that body believes that it constitutes --


HENNESSEY: -- a violation of law sufficient --

SCIUTTO: Ultimately, it's --

HENNESSEY: -- of impeachment.

SCIUTTO: -- a political -- it's a political question. But --


SCIUTTO: -- but we also know another battle that the president's lawyers are preparing to fight is not letting the Mueller report go -- go public. Do they have a case under executive privilege, which is something that they've claimed quite liberally in relation to this in the past?

HENNESSEY: Yes, I think it's pretty revealing that their play here is -- is essentially to try and block this report from coming out. I think that's pretty telling, that they clearly think that whatever's contained in here is going to be damaging to the president. SCIUTTO: That's revealing. You're right.

HENNESSEY: It's very unlikely that they're going to be able to block this report from coming out to the public. Maybe very minor pieces of sort of presidential communication related to his official duties, you know.

But in general, no. Executive privilege is a balancing test. It's about the --


HENNESSEY: -- availability of the information elsewhere. The -- the requesting bodies need to know.

Richard Nixon, you know, fought this fight --


HENNESSEY: -- and lost in the past. And so I do think that this is a little bit of a desperation move by the -- by the president's lawyers.

SCIUTTO: I mean, it's amazing how many of the -- the legal fights are reminiscent of those Watergate fights.

Susan Hennessey, thanks very much, as always.

Republican Congressman Steve King, he is facing a backlash again, this time within his own party, for a new round of just reprehensible remarks. Next, will any consequences follow those condemnations? That's a real question.


[10:48:07] UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voiceover): This is CNN. The most- trusted name in news.

HARLOW: So this morning, Republicans in Congress are condemning blatantly racist remarks from fellow Republican congressman, Steve King of Iowa.

King rhetorically asked "The New York Times," quote --

TEXT: White nationalists, white supremacists, Western civilization -- how did that language become offensive? Why did I sit in classes teaching me about the merits of our history and our civilization?"; Rep. Steve King; (R) Iowa

HARLOW: -- "White nationalists, white supremacists, Western civilization -- how did that language become offensive? Why did I sit in classes teaching me about the merits of our history and our civilization?"

So, later, he tried to walk that back and issued a statement, that he rejects those labels and the evil ideology that they define. And proclaimed himself simply, quote, "A nationalist." But look, this is not the first time or the second time or the third time that King has made racist remarks. In 2017, he said, quote, "We can't restore our civilization with someone else's babies," talking about immigrants. That prompted a neo-Nazi website to say King is, quote, "Basically an open white nationalist at this point."

So here's a question this morning. Will be be censured by his own party? Have his fellow Republicans in Congress had enough?

Joining me now is CNN political commentator Scott Jennings, Republican, former special assistant to former President George W. Bush.

Good morning.


HARLOW: Is this the line?

JENNINGS: I hope so. They ought to censure him. Maybe they ought to take him off of his committee assignments.

I strongly supported the comments that Leader McCarthy and the other congressional leadership made. They need to hold this guy accountable.

They did withhold support for him in the 2018 election, but I think they may need -- may need to consider going a step further and supporting a primary opponent for him in --

HARLOW: You do?

JENNINGS: -- the next election, if he chooses to run again. Because this guy --

HARLOW: That's interesting.

JENNINGS: -- I mean, yes. You could (ph) have a lot of people out there in the --

HARLOW: He already has a primary opponent.

JENNINGS: -- Republican Party -- yes, and --

HARLOW: Yes, he already has a primary opponent for this --

JENNINGS: -- and the Republican Party should support that person. The national --


JENNINGS: -- party should support that person. Republicans in Iowa should support that person. You could have every Republican in the country out there, [10:50:00] trying to do the right thing on race and race relations and moving this conversation forward in -- in any unified way. And this bozo shows up every now and again and ruins it. I mean, the

Republican Party doesn't have, really, margin for error on these issues. And this guy can say things that are so, so damaging.

So I -- I want them to ostracize him, censure him and make it clear, this guy and his views don't have a place in our party.

HARLOW: Wow. Strong statements. But you have -- you talk about congressional comments from congressional Republicans like Steve Scalise and -- and Leader -- House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy.

But just moments ago, my colleague Manu Raju just caught up with Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley, who said, quote, "The people of Iowa elected him. And so, you know, the people have made a choice."

And when he asked Grassley if he should be primaried, he said, "I don't get involved in primaries." He condemned the comments, but he's -- he's not going nearly as far as you are. So I don't know, would there be a simple majority in Congress to censure him in the House, do you think?

JENNINGS: Oh, I think he -- I think he would be censured if it were put up for a vote. And -- and I do think it is the responsibility of the people of Iowa in that congressional district, to do better.

I mean, they've sent this guy up to Congress, you know, for a lot of terms now and he's embarrassed them on a number of occasions. I don't know that -- I like it when the people rise up and -- and hold their politicians accountable, and he needs to be held accountable, not by --

HARLOW: Well --

JENNINGS: -- necessarily people in Washington, but I want his citizens to rise up and say, "We're done --


JENNINGS: -- "being embarrassed by you."

HARLOW: You know, it -- I mean, yes. He won again, but he won by 23 points in 2016 and he won by just three points this time around. So his support is certainly waning, and you wonder if this will be sort of the straw that broke the camel's back. I don't know.

And he's long been shunned by establishment Republicans like John Boehner, et cetera. But what about President Trump? President Trump had fundraised for him in the past. He had him to the White House, actually, to the Oval Office. I think we have a picture of him outside of the White House. Does it give him presidential cover?

JENNINGS: Well, I think President Trump should distance himself from this person because he hurts Donald Trump. You know, we've had this situation before, where the president's been associated with people who've done, you know, galactically stupid and offensive things. And it would behoove the president to get away from those people. You know, the president, I think, actually should be basking in the

credit of, say, his work on criminal justice reform and the outreach that that means for the African-American community. But the impact, the positive impact of work like that is mitigated if you continue to associate yourself with people like King.

So I think the president should get away from this guy, and I think the --

HARLOW: But will he --

JENNINGS: -- Republican --

HARLOW: -- there's a should and a --

JENNINGS: -- congressional committee needs to support his primary opponent.

HARLOW: There's a -- there's a should and there's a will, right? I mean, remember, it was the president who used the both sides language when addressing the tragedy in -- in Charlottesville.

Do you think the president will distance himself? Do you think he will use the power of his Twitter platform to condemn these comments?

JENNINGS: I don't know. I think the one thing that the president can do here that might be the most harmful is, everybody's looking now to see if he'll step up and support King.

If he just goes silent on this guy, if he turns his back on this guy, if he deprives him of that presidential cover, I think that would be enormously damaging for King's political future in that district.

I don't know that the president has to attack him. But just to go silent on him, to say, "You're no longer a part of my circle," I think would speak volumes.

Ultimately, the national party apparatus, however you define this, cannot have any part of this kind of language. And so whether the president is part of that or not, I don't know if he will be.

But I think it would be to the president's benefit for his own political standing with the party and with Americans, if he, at a minimum, turned his back on this guy.

HARLOW: Scott Jennings, thank you. It's an important conversation. We'll keep having it.

So moments from now, we're just waiting for this police presser in Wisconsin, after this remarkable story. A 13-year-old girl, Jayme Closs, found alive three months after she disappeared and was taken from her home after her parents were murdered. We'll bring you that as soon as it begins.



KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR, AT THIS HOUR WITH KATE BOLDUAN: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. We are following breaking news right now. Any moment, officials in Wisconsin will be holding a press conference. You see the podium right there.

This is the first press conference since the truly amazing news came out, of a 13-year-old girl being found alive after going missing last October, almost exactly three months ago.

The girl is Jayme Closs. She has been found alive. There is her picture. A suspect is in custody. It's a story that captivated the country, shocked her small town of Barron, Wisconsin. The young girl vanishing on October 15th, her parents found dead from gunshot wounds in their home.

The breakthrough happening just last night, when a woman walking her dog came face-to-face with the girl they have all been searching for.

CNN's Ryan Young is in Barron County, Wisconsin where this press conference is about to go -- about to happen.

Ryan, what are we expecting to hear, any moment now?

RYAN YOUNG, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, we were hoping to get more details in this case. Because so many people have been asking questions about how she was found, what happened next.

And of course, this news conference is probably going to start within the next few minutes. But so many people arrived here from the community. In fact, this room is now full of people who are asking the same question as we are.

Jayme, of course, was walking when someone who was walking a dog saw her, walked up to her. They said -- they reported -- that she looked like she was very skinny, and she wasn't taken care of very well.

[11:00:00] Behind us, now, everyone's walking in for this news conference.