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Cohen Paid Thousands to Rig Online Polls for Trump; Trump Speaks for 1st Time Since 4 Americans Killed in Syria; Interview with Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY); Watchdog: More Children Separated at Border Than Government Admitted. Aired 11:30a-12p ET

Aired January 17, 2019 - 11:30   ET


[11:30:00] MICHAEL ROTHFELD, INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL (via telephone): 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, including hush money payments, illegal campaign contributions. So we were -- they didn't name the tech company but we tracked it down and found out who it was. We reached out to Gauger. Through the course of our discussions with him, he told us the story and agreed to go on the record. He also told the same thing last year to the federal investigators who are looking into Michael Cohen.


Pamela, let me bring you in.

You just heard from Michael Cohen. What is he telling you?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. I spoke to Michael Cohen earlier this morning and he said that he did so at the direction and for the sole benefit of Donald J. Trump. Once again, he reiterated in open court, that he had blind loyalty to Trump and he regrets that he did. He said he didn't deserve it. Once again, Michael Cohen is saying here, Kate, that he did this, in this case, tried to rig the polls at the direction of Donald Trump. We heard him say that, as well, as it pertains to the two women that were paid off during the campaign to suppress their stories. He also said he did so at the direction of Trump. And he's saying, in this case, that he did. He is directly implicating to Trump and confirming the story here, Kate.

This gives you a window into what we can expect Michael Cohen to talk about when he testifies in front of the Oversight Committee in February. Sources tell my colleague, Gloria Borger, that he still intends to testify, although he is concerned for his family and the safety of his family. But he thinks it is important to testify and he wants to talk about his work for Donald Trump as it pertains to Russia, but other things that you can expect, Kate, to come up. You will likely hear more of the same from him.

What the statement does not include is the explanation as to why he pocketed some of that money. As you just heard from Michael there in his reporting, he was reimbursed the $50,000 but he apparently, according to the reporting, didn't fully pay off the I.T. expert who had been working on this. So Michael Cohen would likely be forced to offer some sort of explanation or be asked to answer that question why he pocketed that money himself and didn't reimburse him.

We should point out, Kate, that we reached out to the Trump administration for comment on Michael Cohen's statement that he did this at the direction of Trump, we have not heard back. Rudy Giuliani told the "Wall Street Journal" that all of this shows that Michael Cohen is a thief since he did pocket some of that money. Again, we don't know the answer to that. But certainly interesting that we are hearing, once again, the president's former long-time attorney and fixer saying he did this at the direction of Donald Trump.

BOLDUAN: You can be sure that is what one of the things he will be asked about when he appears before Congress.

Pamela, thank you so much.

BROWN: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Michael, great reporting. Thank you as well.

I want to get quickly over to the Pentagon. President Trump is speaking. Let's listen.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: A moment to express my deepest condolences to the families of the brave American heroes who laid down their lives yesterday in selfless service to our nation. These are great people, great, great people. We will never forget their noble and immortal sacrifice.

This morning, I also would like to briefly address another matter of critical national security, the humanitarian and security crisis at our southern border. Without a strong border, America is defenseless, vulnerable and unprotected. I also want to thank the military for helping us out during the big caravan period. But now you have more caravans forming and they are on their way up, thousands and thousands of people. We don't know where they are from, who they are, nothing. We need strong borders. We need strong barriers and walls. Nothing else is going to work. Everyone knows it. Everybody is saying it now. It's just a question of time. This should have been done many years ago. It should have been done by other -- really by other presidents and it wasn't. Just like many of the other things we are doing that could have been done many years ago.

BOLDUAN: You are listening to President Trump over at the Pentagon speaking for the first time since those four Americans were killed in Syria yesterday, speaking out, offering his condolences to the family of those killed. You also heard the president speaking about the border and then probably alluding to the shutdown.

[11:34:54] We'll be right back right after this.


BOLDUAN: Is the State of the Union address on or off? The speaker of the House saying moments ago that they will get a date when the government is reopened once again. The White House says President Trump wants to move ahead with the speech to Congress but also has not responded, at least according to the speaker, to the speaker's letter calling for them to postpone the address, which was scheduled for January 29. Add this one to the never-ending list of things caught in limbo as the Congress and the president continue in the standoff over the shutdown.

Joining me right now is the chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, Congressman Hakeem Jeffries.

Congressman, thank you for coming in.

[11:40:13] REP. HAKEEM JEFFRIES, (D-NY), CHAIRMAN, HOUSE DEMOCRATIC CAUCUS: Thanks, Kate, for having me.

BOLDUAN: Nancy Pelosi says, let's get a date for the State of the Union once the government is opened. Is that the speaker, once and for all, saying that the State of the Union address for now is off?

JEFFRIES: I think what the speaker is saying is that we need to reopen the government as our first order of business and then we can proceed with some degree of normalcy. It is impossible to do so in the midst of a situation where you have 800,000 federal workers and their families suffering, Coast Guard workers and their families suffering, Border Patrol agents and their families suffering, TSA agents and their families suffering, farmers suffering, veterans suffering, small businesses suffering, all because of this reckless shutdown. I think that is our position. It's a responsible one. And we just want to come together in a bipartisan way so we can begin to tackle the issues on behalf of the American people after we reopen the government.

BOLDUAN: So, Congress, the State of the Union then is off?

JEFFRIES: The State of the Union -- as far as I understand it, we are waiting for a response from Donald Trump or his team -- has been postponed because it would be a security risk to convene 435 members of Congress, 100 Senators, the president, the vice president, the cabinet, ambassadors and others when we have Secret Service agents, because of the president's reckless Trump shutdown, working without pay under significant financial strain. Why would we strain them any further so that Donald Trump can come to the Hill and put on a performance for the American people?

BOLDUAN: The head of Homeland Security says this about the security concerns that were cited in Nancy Pelosi's letter, as you mentioned: "The Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Secret Service are fully prepared to support and secure the State of the Union. We thank the service for their mission, focus and dedication, and for all they do each day to secure our homeland."

It says they are fully prepared to secure the State of the Union. With that, why not reissue the invite to the president?

JEFFRIES: Does anyone take the secretary of Homeland Security seriously at this point? This is somebody who came before the Congress and could not tell us how many individual children and others had died in her custody. Obviously --


BOLDUAN: You just don't believe her?

JEFFRIES: I don't think she has any credibility on this point and a bunch of other issues that have been communicated by her and others in the Trump administration to the American people.

BOLDUAN: Is it really about security or is this -- you said you didn't want to allow the president to come put on a show. If you don't want him to come, the way this works is that Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House, she is in control of the invite. If you don't want him to come, why not just say so?

JEFFRIES: I think the speaker has taken the responsible position of opening a line of communication to try to work through the security issues and has responsibly suggested that we consider a different date. She also pointed out appropriately in her letter --


BOLDUAN: That's important. That's important what you just said. If you were able to get assurance, and I understand you don't -- you say you don't believe when you hear from Kirstjen Nielsen. But if you were able to get assurances that the Secret Service can handle it, they wouldn't be taxed, they could handle the security effort for this special event, would you want to hold it on January 29?

JEFFRIES: Here is the thing, for his lifetime, Donald Trump has made a business practice of paying or not paying workers, I should say, for work that they have performed. He has done the same thing to contract after contract after contract back at home in New York. I don't think it is an appropriate thing to do in the United States of America to continue to tax not just the Secret Service but this reckless Trump shutdown is forcing TSA agents and the Coast Guard and Border Patrol officials who are continuing to keep us safe to work without pay, undergoing significant financial strain, and putting the country at risk.

BOLDUAN: That's something that I heard from Nancy Pelosi today, they shouldn't be asked to work without pay. That's not the appropriate thing to do. She says that's not the position to have. But is it security? Is it about security or is it a different reason? I'm trying to get down to the point of what is the reason?

JEFFRIES: The reason has been plainly set forth in her letter. I would say it is all of the above. As with everything over the last two years, amidst the chaos and confusion in the Trump administration, you can't just pin anything on a singular factor. We are simply saying three things. Open the government. If you can open government, then we, as Democrats, can get back to working for the people, lowering health care costs, working on infrastructure, increasing pay of every day Americans, cleaning up the mess and the corruption in Washington, D.C. And having a reasonable conversation about border security, which we strongly support, but we can't do any of this until we open the government. And certainly proceeding with the State of the Union would be irresponsible.

[11:45:16] BOLDUAN: When it comes to the shutdown, at this point, make the case to federal workers that getting them back to work isn't worth giving Donald Trump some money for a wall.

JEFFRIES: Here is the thing. Our ultimate responsibility as elected officials in government is to manage public money. We can either manage that money efficiently or we can waste taxpayer dollars. And it is irresponsible for us to waste billions of taxpayer dollars on a medieval, fifth century border wall when we need to have a 21st century comprehensive border security solution. The shutdown --

BOLDUAN: Look, government waste -- government waste is nonsense and shouldn't happen. We know it does.


BOLDUAN: We know it does in every appropriation. We know it happens in every Congress. One-plus-billion, and I hate to even say this, is a drop in the bucket when you look at the federal budget and the amount of waste that there's in the federal budget as is, so.

JEFFRIES: The people that I represent back home, the average median income is $38,000 so --


BOLDUAN: I hear what you are saying. I --


JEFFRIES: -- is a whole lot of money --

BOLDUAN: I know.

JEFFRIES: -- of their dollars to waste. So I think we're being appropriate stewards in that regard. Donald Trump is the one who said that he is going to shut down the government. He is going to be proud to shut down the government. He's not going to blame Democrats or anyone else and it's going to be a Trump shutdown. We just need to reopen the government. It's not an appropriate negotiating tactic. No other country in the world -- Russia doesn't do it. China doesn't do it. Iran doesn't do it. They don't shutdown their government in the midst of bureaucratic disputes. Why should the great United States of America do it? This is, unfortunately, what happens with the reality show that has been Donald Trump over the last two years. It needs to end and it needs to end now.

BOLDUAN: If the Senate would strike a bipartisan deal that includes wall funding, does that die in the House?

JEFFRIES: I can't speak to hypotheticals. What we have been doing day after day after day --

(CROSSTALK) BOLDUAN: Congressman, you can say, Kate, I'm not going to answer the questions but don't say we can't talk hypotheticals. We talk about hypotheticals all the time and we entertain them all the time. Hypothetically, you are ready to have the State of the Union if, hypothetically, Donald Trump would open the government. So what about that.

JEFFRIES: What I'm saying is there's no actual bill language. It would be irresponsible for me as member of Congress, as the chair of the House Democratic Caucus, to comment on a hypothetical bipartisan bill that hasn't materialized. I haven't seen the language. I don't know what the expertise is in terms of testimony presented to lead to the bill language to suggest that a border wall would be effective. We are saying we are willing to invest in infrastructure, technology, increased personnel along the border. The Border Patrol agency needs and additional 2,000-plus personnel to secure our southwestern border as well as the ports of entry where the majority of drugs come in. The Coast Guard needs assistance. They can only interdict about 25 percent of the drugs that come into the country. If they had the infrastructure and the personnel, they could do upwards of 75 percent. We are willing to have a real mature conversation about border security, we have great ideas, but can't do it in the midst of a reckless government shutdown.

BOLDUAN: And an important note, Coast Guard members are going without pay right now in the midst of the government shutdown.

Congressman, thanks for coming in.

JEFFRIES: Thanks so much, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Thank you.

Up next, six months after the Trump administration missed a court- ordered deadline to reunite all children with their parents, who had been separated at the border, there's a stunning new admission coming from the administration right now. How many children were actually separated? How many children are still without their families?

[11:49:12] That's next.


BOLDUAN: A stunning new report just out now says the Trump administration has no idea how many children were actually separated at the border from a parent or guardian. The Trump administration initially ballparked the number of children at more than 2700. But according to new findings from the inspector general at the Department of Health and Human Services, the number is actually much higher, the I.G. finds, and the Trump administration does not know what that number is.

CNN's Nick Valencia is joining me right now.

Nick, this report just comes out. What more are you finding out about this? NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That was on the call with HHS

office of the inspector general when we heard this stunning revelation. What we found, as you noted, is we learned today that the Trump administration does not know how many children were separated during the family separation policy, but it was much higher than the number we were previously given by the Trump administration, which is 2,737. Not only did we find that, it was revealed today on the call that more children are being held for a longer period of time than is being talked about in this public debate. If you remember last summer, Kate, there was a deadline set by a federal judge to reunite these children that had been separated during the zero-tolerance policy. And what we learned -- we had previously reported on CNN that separations were still happening well after that deadline. But what we learned today is the number. A total of 1800 children were still separated after that court order. According to this OIG report, we learned that those children were mostly separated because of concern of criminal history of the parent of guardian. This was all part of a report, a two-week data collection report by the office of the inspector general. They went to 45 sites.

[11:55:25] Here's what the HHS is saying about this report this morning that was revealed this morning: "The effort undertaken by HHS was complex, fast-moving and resource-intensive. OIG's report provides a window into the herculean work of the HHS career staff to rapidly identify children in our care who had been separated from their parents and reunified" -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: Nick, thank you so much.

They didn't know how many children were separated. They don't know how they're even going to get to that number.

Thanks so much.

We'll be right back.