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AT THIS HOUR

Giuliani Flips, No Longer Ruling Out Trump Campaign Collusion; Pelosi Speaks After Asking Trump to Delay State of the Union; Cohen Paid Thousands to Rig Online Polls for Trump. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired January 17, 2019 - 11:00   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:00:12] KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan, "AT THIS HOUR."

At any moment, we will hear from both speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, on the left, and President Trump, on the right of your screen. We will hear that the State of the Union is off or on. Is either side willing to give even a little when it comes to the shutdown? We'll find out.

The president is going to be at the Pentagon this hour before cameras for the first time since the deadly attack in Syria that killed four Americans. We have yet to hear from the president about this. We are watching that and will bring it to you when it happens.

We are following the fallout from this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUDY GIULIANI, ATTORNEY FOR PRESIDENT TRUMP: I never said there was no collusion between the campaign or between people in the campaign.

(CROSSTALK)

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, you have.

GIULIANI: I have not. I said the president of the United States. There's not a single bit of evidence the president of the United States committed the only crime he can commit here, conspiring with the Russians to hack the DNC.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: That appears to be the president's personal attorney trying to move the goal posts and trying to move them once again when it comes to the Russia investigation. Let us remember where team Trump started way back when, when it came to Russia, communication and collusion. November 2016, spokeswoman for the campaign, Hope Hicks, back then, said this. Quote, "It never happened. There was no communication between the campaign and any foreign entity during the campaign." Then by July 2017, they were forced to acknowledge communication with Russians quite a bit, as we now know now, but said there's no collusion.

Remember this famous moment.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KELLYANNE CONWAY, SENIOR ADISOR TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: This is to help all the people at home. What is the conclusion? Collusion, no, we don't have that yet.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: Then it became, well, collusion isn't a crime, come July 2018.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GIULIANI: I have been sitting here looking at the federal code trying to find collusion as a crime. It's not. Collusion is not a crime.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: And still they maintain that no one in the campaign had colluded.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): Is it still the position of you and your client that there was no collusion with the Russians whatsoever on behalf of the Trump campaign?

GIULIANI (voice-over): Correct.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: Straightforward, not so much. Fast forward to today, and then you have the line now is the only thing that Rudy Giuliani says he knows is Donald Trump did not collude and he says, we can't speak now for anyone else in the campaign. As we said, Giuliani is moving the goal post once again. This one might be the most significant move yet.

Joining me right now is CNN crime and justice reporter, Shimon Prokupecz.

Shimon, this is a major shift.

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME & JUSTICE REPORTER: It is a major shift. You are absolutely right. You laid it out perfectly. What we are seeing Giuliani say today is very different from what the president has said. Keep in mind that Rudy Giuliani is the president's lawyer. He is out there speaking for him. In these words, from last night, he contradicted everything that the president has been saying, the people close to the president have been saying, and Rudy Giuliani has said previously. I think what is going on now is that there's some concern after the revelations that Paul Manafort shared these internal polling data with this Russian intelligence operative. There could be concern now that that perhaps is where the collusion is. We know that this is something that Mueller has been looking at, this individual, Konstantin Kilimnik, who they said is this Russian operative. He is the focus of grand jury testimony. So this could be what is concerning, certainly, Rudy Giuliani and people close to the president.

BOLDUAN: There's a lot going on with that one line from Rudy Giuliani last night to Chris Cuomo, a lot going on there.

Shimon, thank you so much.

PROKUPECZ: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: It's great to see you.

Joining me right now to discuss, Garrett Graff, a CNN contributor and contributing editor at "Wired" magazine, and CNN legal analyst, Michael Zeldin, a former federal prosecutor who served as special assistant to Robert Mueller at the Justice Department.

Great to see you guys.

Michael, Rudy Giuliani has done this before. After months of denials, he goes on TV to offer up finally that Donald Trump did reimburse Michael Cohen for the payoff to Stormy Daniels. That was after denial after denial. That came as a surprise and he offered it up. It seems that this is maybe what he is doing right now. So then, what then is Rudy Giuliani trying to do here?

[11:04:50] MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: You know, it beats me. Honestly, Kate, if I were the president of the United States, I would say Rudy Giuliani has been fired. He has made statements which are untrue. They do not reflect what the campaign did or knew. I'm sorry he went out on his own and did this. Because it is unacceptable as a public relations person or as a lawyer to put this information out there because I don't think that there's a factual predicate for it. If he is being clever as a fox and trying to get out in front of a story, as he did with other stories, I would have said, let Mueller get out there first because, right now, the president has been off the news on this. It has been all Manafort and Gates and Cohen. I don't understand what the strategy was here.

BOLDUAN: Garrett, it is also not just Giuliani who has claimed previously that no one on the campaign colluded. Donald Trump did this very same thing. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There was no collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian people.

There was no collusion whatsoever. There never has been. The last thing I want is help from Russia on a campaign.

There has been no collusion between the Trump campaign and Russians.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: So now there's a change in position here. Can someone reasonably conclude that, from this, that they have gotten wind that, I don't know, Mueller has evidence of collusion by, at minimum, someone on the campaign staff?

GARRETT GRAFF, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Yes. It is important to look at all of Rudy Giuliani's statements, not just the president didn't collude, because he is trying to move the goal post in the second half of that statement --

(CROSSTALK)

GRAFF: -- where he talked about the only crime the president could be convicted of is conspiring to hack the DNC, which fundamentally isn't true on all sorts of levels. But he is also trying to establish a burden of proof where, if the president didn't literally order the Russian GRU to hack John Podesta and leak the e-mails, then whatever else the president did doesn't count. Frankly, there are all sorts of crimes that the candidate or the campaign could have been involved in after the fact, as well. This is something where we shouldn't let Rudy Giuliani sort of change the goal post either in the first half of his statement or the second half of his statement.

BOLDUAN: Michael, I want to get your take on that. Garrett made a really important point. The way Giuliani put it in the second half of the sound byte to Chris is the only crime you could commit is to conspire with the Russians to hack the DNC. From your perspective, what is your perspective on this? Is that the only crime that could have been committed?

ZELDIN: No. Absolutely not. The president once said about Rudy Giuliani, when he first came onto the team, was Rudy doesn't know the law or the facts yet. It seems to me that he is still at that point of not knowing the law or the facts. As Garrett said, it is exactly right. There are many after-the-fact acts that the president could have done that would amount to a crime. We don't know if he has done any of those things. We are careful not to accuse him of anything. There are crimes that they could have committed that amount to conspiracy or illegal financial campaign coordination or obstruction or witness tampering or any of those sort of things that are presumably under Mueller's watch at the moment. The president really was disserved by Giuliani last night.

BOLDUAN: Michael, real quick, does --

(CROSSTALK)

GRAFF: And, Kate if I can hope in?

BOLDUAN: Go ahead. Go.

GRAFF: There's one very specific point from the last two weeks that might very well fit into this, which is you have the Trump campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, passing polling data to Konstantin Kilimnik. That is certainly something that is not conspiring with Russia to hack the DNC. But it certainly seems like it could belong to a set of facts that point to other crimes down the road that Mueller is evidently interested in from what we can tell from the court filings.

BOLDUAN: And, Michael, is it Rudy Giuliani who gets -- he may try to move the goal post in terms of where the line is of criminality or what should be looked at or whatever. Is it his to decide, though? I mean, does this impact Robert Mueller and what he's doing?

ZELDIN: Absolutely not. Just as last night when he said in his estimation it's time for Mueller to release his report, well, fine. Rudy can have that point of view. It is up to Mueller to decide when it is time to release the report, just as it is Mueller's time to decide where the goal post should be placed and what players are on the field to be inquired of. I keep trying to figure out, Kate, what was he doing that was helpful to the president last night, and nothing comes to mind.

[11:10:05] BOLDUAN: Garrett, you have a new piece up for "Wired." The headline reading as follows, "Trump Must be a Russian Agent. The Alternative Is Too Awful."

Lay out then what the alternative is.

GRAFF: When you look at the last five days of revelations that we have had about the president's strange behavior in terms of Russia and Vladimir Putin, his conversations with Putin privately, some of the revelations we have seen, it would really almost be embarrassing for the president if it comes out that Robert Mueller concludes that he was not an active agent of the Russian government as part of this whole two, three, four-year period. The alternative, at this point, we have seen incent explanation after innocent explanation stripped away. The alternative is that the president is so self-centered and egotistical, such a terrible manager, such a terrible leader, and so naturally prone to undermine democratic institutions and coddle authoritarians that he is doing these strange things out of his own free will to satiate his own personal ego. At this point, based on what we have learned, the option or scenario that makes the president look smarter is that he is colluding with Russia because otherwise, as I write in the piece, he will go down in history as the world's most useful idiot, which is the term the Communists used to describe people who could be co-opted to their cause without them knowing.

(CROSSTALK)

ZELDIN: To that point, to that point, there was a defendant charged in a public Russian case who said, famously, the government has put me in a terrible position. I'm either a criminal or a fool. That's exactly what I think Garret is saying. Either this president is a criminal or a fool, neither of which is good.

BOLDUAN: Hopefully, maybe, there will be answers if we all get to see what Robert Mueller finally concludes when he does.

ZELDIN: When he does.

BOLDUAN: It's great to see you guys. When he does, exactly.

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: Thank you.

Really appreciate it, guys.

We will go to Capitol Hill. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is speaking right now. Let's find out the state of play with the State of the Union. Let's listen in.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: on that figure that the Republicans --

REP. NANCY PELOSI, (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: I'm not for a wall. I'm not for a wall.

Yes?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: (INAUDIBLE) -- on the State of the Union, so aren't you just trying to deny the president of a platform?

PELOSI: No, I'm not denying the president at all. I said let's get a date when government is open. Let's pay the employees. Maybe he thinks it is OK not to pay people who do work. I don't. My caucus doesn't either. Before I issued the letter, I have consulted with the chair of the Homeland Security Committee, Mr. Bennie Thompson about -- he has oversight of that committee and has worked very hard and long on issues that relate to domestic security, domestic terrorism. And he agrees that we should go for it in this way. It isn't a question about being professional enough. Why even take it there? The question is, they should be paid. As the secretary of any agency, that person should be advocating for her employees to be paid instead of saying it is OK for them to work without pay.

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: If the president comes back to you and says, no, I want to give the State of the Union at the capitol on the date we agreed to, what will you do then? Will you allow it to go forward?

PELOSI: We'll cross that bridge when we come to it.

(CROSSTALK)

PELOSI: But we haven't heard. Very silent more than 24 hours. To your question that you asked me every time I step out of the office, have you heard? No, we haven't heard yet.

Yes, sir?

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Thank you, Madam Speaker. What about the idea -- I know you have concerns about the security. But considering how everybody is so amped up on both sides of the aisle about the shutdown, the president is amped up by not doing this, at this stage, this is really an effort to lower the temperature that nothing good could potentially come from that scene in the chamber. Members might not be respectful. The president might not be respectful of you. Are you concerned about the --

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Are you concerned about that, about the temperature getting too high in that room?

[11:15:47] PELOSI: No. I'm concerned about people not having paychecks in their homes. Have you heard the stories of people -- that young woman, newlywed, she came home and was sick, she was diabetic, she had three vials left, she didn't know what she was going to do. She thought, hopefully, the government will open again. It didn't. She is not taking insulin that she needed for her diabetes. She said sometimes she would go to sleep and she thought it would be easier not to wake up than to face the fact that she wasn't having a paycheck and couldn't afford her medicine. The father who has a child born needing an operation but couldn't get onto the health insurance program because government was shut down. The list goes on and on. That's the heat that we want to lower, the heat in the lives of the people, to convey a story that is going on all over the country. We want to convey the reality of this policy in the lives of these workers. It's not just -- although it is a stunning number, 800,000, we care about that statistic. But we care about each and every family that is affected. It goes beyond those employees into our economy. The president's own people are saying that GDP will not grow as long as this shutdown is there. And that means that the president's insistence is a luxury the country can no longer afford.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: On your concerns, ma'am, don't you, as speaker of the House, have an obligation to be at the negotiating table?

PELOSI: (INAUDIBLE). The last one we went to was a setup where the president gave himself leverage to leave the room. We are at the negotiating table. I never discourage anybody from not accepting an invitation from the president of the United States. Some of our folks were there yesterday. So I don't know which meeting you are talking about that we are not at.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: There don't appear to be any active talks. If Congress has the power of the purse, couldn't you say, fine, here is money for border security, here's own you're going to use it?

PELOSI: That is what we have been saying. Perhaps you missed it. Perhaps we weren't clear enough. So I will take responsibility for that.

Let me go into it again -- 90 percent of the drugs and many asylum seekers coming into the United States come in through the ports of entry. We are saying use resources -- by the way, in the last Congress, before we adjourned, we gave the administration exactly what the department asked for. It passed in the Senate. When you say, why aren't you negotiating, we are negotiating. And we do go to the meetings. Let's be clear. You will be seeing many things unfolding in the next few days about what our next bills will be on the floor. In case I wasn't clear, 90 percent of the drugs coming into the country come through the ports of entry. Let's use resources to expand the ports of entry. You have to base the -- this has to be evidence based, not notion mongered. And those ports of entry need more personnel. Nearly 3,000 employee vacancies, positions not filled on the border. Some of it is because of the quality of life. They need more infrastructure to do their jobs in terms of ports of entry, water supply and the rest. Then we talk about technology. As I said, several hundred million dollars, ranges from a half a billion to $700 million, for the technology to scan the cars coming through the ports of entry. And that is to detect guns. It's like an electronic to detect drugs, guns, other contraband. You are using other technology, other places along the border and to do so in a way that -- so it's about infrastructure. It's about some roads to go with it to facilitate trade and immigration and, first and foremost, our security. And to do so in a way --

BOLDUAN: Listening to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on the state of play of the shutdown and also the state of play of the State of the Union.

Joining me now, our senior political reporter, Nia Malika Henderson, and CNN senior political analyst, Mark Preston.

Great to see you, guys.

Nia, we heard from the speaker there, we'll get a date when the government is open when it comes to the State of the Union. I guess that is a final answer for now.

NIA MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: That's the final answer. She said she hadn't heard from this president in terms of the letter she wrote and asking the president to postpone a date until the government is open. We'll see. It does seem like the White House has said the president still intends to deliver his State of the Union address on that date. But Nancy Pelosi holds all of the cards here in terms of an invitation and a resolution out of the House that this is going to happen. It sounds like it is not going to happen. You saw in that press conference Nancy Pelosi really trying to put the focus on the effects that the shutdown is having on the individual lives of people. She is rambling off stories of folks she has heard around the country. That is in keeping with what their strategy has been so far. It means we are where we were yesterday and the day before, which is at loggerheads and a stalemate with the shutdown.

[11:20:34] BOLDUAN: Mark, when it comes to the shutdown, she said the president's insistence on the wall is no longer a luxury the country can afford. Something's got to give. I say this every day. You can roll your eyes at me. Something's got to give. There are no planned talks between Democrats and the White House. Do you think this State of the Union move, if you want to say it that way, is a way to try to get him to negotiate?

MARK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: No question, yes. It is a move. It's a strategic move. But it's a smart move. I don't think that Nancy Pelosi is losing this argument, Kate. I think Democrats are winning the argument. That's why you are seeing the White House scramble to try to make something out of this. Right now, they are losing.

BOLDUAN: Let's see what happens in the next five minutes. We are waiting to hear from President Trump. Any moment, President Trump will be speaking for the first time since the attack in Syria that killed four Americans. We will bring you his remarks when he speaks about them, if he does.

This is ahead for us, as well. Candidate Trump spent the campaign claiming that polls, all of them, were rigged against him. Now a new report that says Trump's long-time attorney, Michael Cohen, may have tried to do just that. Michael Cohen is now speaking to CNN. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

[11:26:20] TRUMP: What they do is they show these phony polls.

It's a rigged system. It's a rigged system. We're going to beat it.

You have a system that is rigged. We have a system that is crooked.

The system is rigged. It's not meant for a guy like me.

I think these polls, I don't know, there's something about these polls, there's something funny.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: Phony polls and a rigged system, that is something the president said over and over and over again on the campaign trail, almost as often as he said build a wall. But a new report in the "Wall Street Journal" says that at least one member of Trump's inner circle was trying to rig polls in the 2016 race in his favor. "The Journal" reporting that Trump's long-time attorney, Michael Cohen, hired a company to fix online polls to help Trump's campaign. Michael Cohen, who is set to report to prison in March, he isn't denying it.

Michael broke the story for "The Journal." He's part of the team there. He is joining me by the phone. Also with us, CNN senior White House correspondent, Pamela Brown.

Pam, great to see you as well.

Michael, let me start with you.

Talk to me about this man. Not Michael Cohen, but John Gauger. What did -- he is a tech consultant and he worked with Liberty University. What did he tell you?

MICHAEL ROTHFELD, INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL (via telephone): He told us that he established a relationship with Michael Cohen around 2012 after Trump visited Liberty University. Cohen wanted to help him with some personal technology issues, like setting up his Instagram account. Then they had a number of other things they did that Cohen asked him to do. In 2014, there was a CNBC poll of the top business leaders in the country and it went from 200 down to the top 25. Cohen wanted him to make Trump the greatest business leader of the century. He asked him if he could manipulate the poll by writing a computer script for Trump to win. He tried to do that but it didn't work. Then a year later, as Trump was preparing to run for president, February 2016, Cohen asked Gauger again to do the same thing with the report of Republican presidential candidates and, again, it failed because Trump came in fifth in that poll of 20,000 votes.

BOLDUAN: Michael, how did this lead to tens of thousands of dollars in cash in a bag?

(CROSSTALK)

ROTHFELD: What happened was that Gauger, who has his own -- he's Liberty University's chief information officer, but he has his own company, called Redfinch Solutions, and he told Cohen that this polling work, even though it didn't work, would be $50,000. Gauger tries to collect. He goes to Cohen's office in the beginning of 2015 to get the 50,000, which he thinks will be a check, but instead, Cohen hands him a Walmart bag, which, by the way, Cohen has denied doing, didn't deny doing the polling manipulation, but he did deny paying him in cash. He hands him this blue Walmart bag with $12,000 or $13,000 in cash and a boxing glove from a mixed martial arts fighter that Cohen had some affiliation with. He said, here you go. He never paid him the rest of it. But he did bill the Trump Organization for $50,000 or he asked for reimbursement and got it. Actually, it must have come from Trump's personal checking account.

BOLDUAN: Real quick, Michael, this is great reporting. Why did John Gauger say he is speaking out? Why is he speaking out now?

ROTHFELD: Well, we actually found him because the federal prosecutors had mentioned the tech consultant through the reimbursement when they charged Cohen in August with eight felonies in New York --