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WSJ: Michael Cohen Hired a Firm to Rig Online Polls in Trump's Favor; NYT: Trump Argued Russians were Falsely Accused of Election Interference; Government Shutdown Enters Day 27 with No End in Sight; Dow Set to Drop at Open. Aired 9-9:30

Aired January 17, 2019 - 09:00   ET


[09:00:35] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Top of the hour. Good morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Jim Sciutto. Buckle up. There is a lot of news this morning.


SCIUTTO: Important news. If there is a line that President Trump has repeated more often than "build the wall" it is "no collusion." Both of those have brought this presidency to crisis points and this morning both are in more doubt than ever before.

Last night right here on CNN with our colleague Chris Cuomo, the president's own lawyer acknowledged that the Trump campaign may have colluded with Russians in 2016. And he falsely claimed that he'd never said otherwise.

Here is a fiery Rudy Giuliani speaking to an incredulous Cuomo.


RUDY GIULIANI, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S PERSONAL LAWYER: I never said there was no collusion between the campaign or between people in the campaign.


GIULIANI: I have no idea -- I have not. I said the president of the United States. There is not a single bit of evidence the president of the United States committed the only crime you could commit here, conspired with the Russians to hack the DNC.


CUOMO: To be clear, Giuliani has publicly denied collusion. Many times.

HARLOW: Many. Many, many times. And as he put it he's denied collusion with, quote, "the top four or five people," unquote, in the campaign which would include the one-time campaign chairman Paul Manafort who we now know funneled that polling data to a colleague linked to Russian intelligence.

Giuliani's client could wallpaper Mar-a-Lago with his tweets denying collusion and declaring the Mueller probe, quote, "a witch hunt." This, by the way, folks, by no means a comprehensive list.

Our Shimon Prokupecz begins our coverage this morning.

I mean talk about moving the goal post here. But beyond that in such a significant way. Why?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Yes. It is certainly significant. And nothing anyone expected Rudy Giuliani to say. We certainly never know what Rudy Giuliani is going to say. But this, by all means it's probably something more significant than he has ever done because this goes to the heart of really what's been going on the last couple of years in this investigation. Whether or not there was collusion.

And we really don't know. It could be that Rudy Giuliani, given as you said there, Poppy, about Konstantin Kilimnik, that we now know that Paul Manafort shared secret internal polling data with this Russian operative, it could be that maybe in their minds now finally things are changing. But, you know, it isn't only Rudy Giuliani who has previously said that there was no collusion. Let's take a listen to what the president has said.


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.


PROKUPECZ: And Poppy, becoming quite obvious that Konstantin Kilimnik is at the center of this collusion investigation. And that could be where the Mueller team is now focused. The sharing of this polling data, could be other information, that Paul Manafort shared with this Russian operative. That could be where a lot of this investigation is centered at.

We've also realized more information from a filing that came from the Mueller team this week, and that they really revealed a little more information about Konstantin Kilimnik, and how he's been the focus of a grand jury investigation.

SCIUTTO: That is one massive moving of the goal posts.

Shimon, stick around. Joining us now to discuss this, former New York City prosecutor Paul Callan.

Paul, I don't think we can understate this. The president's lawyer no longer denying that members of the Trump campaign colluded with Russia. Should we imagine here that they have gotten a heads up, they've gotten wind of evidence that the special counsel has turned up? Because Giuliani -- people want to say, Giuliani, he's a loose cannon, et cetera, but he does -- he makes these statements with cause. And we've seen that in the past.

PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes. He always starts out with these broad generalities about the president's innocence and the campaign innocence. And then eventually as we saw happened in the Stormy Daniels case when there was a denial that the president knew anything about the payoff, eventually Giuliani came out and said, well, he did know about the payoff. But he found it about later.

HARLOW: That it was personal money.

CALLAN: Now this is much, much bigger. And the reason I say that is this is the missing link. This is the connection between contact with the Russians and collusion with the Russians, if it's true.

[09:05:05] Having contact with the Russians during a presidential campaign is not criminal. It is criminal, however, if you slip them polling information so that they can hack into or use hacked materials to try to influence selected districts that might be in the interest of the Trump campaign.

HARLOW: Right.

CALLAN: That's the missing link that could turn this into a very serious collusion case.

HARLOW: And so the goal posts that were moved by Giuliani last night in that extraordinary interview that Chris did is that he is now trying to insulate and protect the president.



HARLOW: The president from the people around him. Now the question becomes, does Mueller have any evidence that ties anyone who may have colluded on the Trump team back to the president? How hard of a line is that to draw and how significant?

CALLAN: Well, it is a difficult thing to do, although I think if you step back, most people would say, how could the president not know that his campaign manager is slipping polling information to the Russians? How could the president not know when his own son orchestrated a meeting in the Trump Tower with Russian representatives to get dirt on Hillary Clinton?

It all looks like the president knew a lot. But the defense here is that he didn't know. So we'll have to see what Mueller has. I'm assuming that there may be other things because the Mueller investigation has been so thorough and detailed in every case when an indictment is filed. So I think eventually we're going to see a lot more of this connection. HARLOW: Paul Callan, thank you for your expertise this morning.

CALLAN: Thank you.

HARLOW: Let's dive deeper. Let's bring Shimon back in with us along with Spectrum News political anchor Errol Louis and from the "Washington Post," White House reporter Seung Ming Kim.

Errol Louis, to you first. Why would Rudy Giuliani -- as Jim right notes, he makes statements for the most part very intentionally. And this was clear. He didn't by the way back away from this afterwards. He insisted to Chris that he never said it which wasn't true.

SCIUTTO: Yes. That's right.

HARLOW: He said it and he didn't back away. And I wonder why.

ERROL LOUIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Look, when you start moving the goal posts, maybe somebody realizes that the ball is getting a little bit closer to the goal. And you want to kind of move it back. We've seen in lots of filings in various jurisdictions we see all of this redacted information regarding Paul Manafort.

I assume that the president and his lawyer know something about what went on there, what has been deemed too sensitive for public release as of yet. Everything we're hearing is that the Mueller investigation is winding down, that attorneys are going to be sort of released and that some kind of final report could be made public in the next few months.

So I think they are trying to get prepared for what is almost certainly going to be some devastating information about all of the different ties that his campaign manager and his National Security adviser and family members and campaign officials all had with Russian officials throughout the campaign.

SCIUTTO: Yes. And we should remind folks that go back to the original denials. The original denials were no contacts between the Russia and the campaign. That of course proven false many times over, repeated contacts. And then that those contacts were innocent as we see the sharing of polling data, et cetera.

HARLOW: It's such a good point.

SCIUTTO: There was more to it. The evolution over time.

Seung Ming Kim, you cover the White House. I'm curious as you're speaking to folks this morning, are they concerned about Giuliani's revelation? Were they surprised by it? Were they prepared for it?

SEUNG MING KIM, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, WASHINGTON POST: A little too early to tell at this point. But going back to an earlier point, I mean, Giuliani, as, you know, confusing sometimes and shocking as some of his public comments may be, he does do things very intentionally.

SCIUTTO: Yes. KIM: So I think the fact that he has throughout of course on his time

on the president's legal team he has kind of moved the goal posts and kind of walked kind of where are, you know, perspective is on different points is really remarkable.

I mean, it was in November 2016 that Hope Hicks, the White House -- President Trump's spokeswoman at the time said there was no contact between any campaign or -- between the campaign and any foreign entity. And by the "Washington Post" count this morning there have been at least 10 times where, you know, spokesmen for the president or his legal team have kind of moved the goal posts in terms of what those communications were or whatnot between Russia and the Trump associates and the Trump campaign.

So this latest comment from Rudy Giuliani clearly a major movement in that direction. We'll see what the president has to say if anything this morning. He's not tweeted about the matter. But it really is kind of a remarkable development what Rudy Giuliani said last night.

HARLOW: Shimon, another important part of the interview that Chris did with Rudy Giuliani was, you know, questioning him on the reporting that Giuliani had said that he wanted to be able to, quote-unquote, "correct" the Mueller report before its release. Giuliani insisted he didn't say that. He said he wants to see the whole thing.

Let's play for you his answer about why.


[09:10:06] GIULIANI: Having something to do with paying some Stormy Daniels woman $130,000, I mean, which is going to turn out to be perfectly legal. That money was not campaign money. Sorry. I'm giving you a fact now that you don't know. It's not campaign money.


HARLOW: Sorry, sorry, technical difficulties. That's the wrong one. Let's roll this from last night with Chris Cuomo, guys.


GIULIANI: As his lawyer, I honestly would like you to see the whole report. Because I think -- I think Jay and I could knock the hell out of it.


HARLOW: Significance of that all, Shimon.

PROKUPECZ: Well, he's not going to get an advanced report, you know, once Mueller is done. William Barr who presumably will be the next attorney general once he's confirmed has said as much. There's no -- they have no reason to give anyone this copy, this report in advance. And that's just not going to happen.

The thing is we're going to maybe learn a lot before this report comes out. If there are going to be more court filings, if there's going to be more indictments, that is where I think a lot of this information will come out. And just yesterday the attorneys for Paul Manafort said that they just received about 800 pages of exhibits of evidence against their client that the special counsel filed to show how he lied to them consistently, lied to them about this Russian intelligence official that he had contact with.

So I think what we're going to -- what's going to happen is even before this report comes out, we're going to learn a lot more information which is going to be significant. And also keep in mind that Paul Manafort's attorneys have essentially said as much that they've been sharing information with the president's legal team. So they have a lot of information already because of the sharing of this information.

Other defense attorneys have shared information with them that they've gotten from the Mueller team. So they know. They have a good indication of what's going on. But I do think the Konstantin Kilimnik, all the information that we have learned really in the last week about him, about the sharing of polling data, the filing from the other that he is the center of this grand jury investigation, that is playing huge in their minds right now because in terms of even publicly, right, it's out there now.

That there is this guy who was working for the Russians that Paul Manafort had a longstanding relationship with and was sending him and giving him polling data. And we don't know why. That is something that is going to have to be answered at some point.

SCIUTTO: And all these documents are redacted so we have to assume that we are getting in the public sphere a sliver of what the special counsel has been able to establish.

HARLOW: Sure. Yes.

SCIUTTO: Which eventually we'll see.

Shimon Prokupecz, Errol Louis, Seung Ming Kim, Paul Callan here in New York, thanks very much.

President Trump has met privately with the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, five times. And not much, if anything, is known about what they talked about in those meetings, but the president did phone a reporter from the "New York Times" right after one of those meetings. We talk to that reporter next.

HARLOW: And day 27 of the government shutdown and the effects are being felt literally coast to coast. A congressman who met with the president just yesterday to try to strike a deal will join us live. Is there hope for a compromise?

Also, ISIS launches a deadly attack in Syria killing four Americans. So far the president has remained silent on that and not changing his strategy on withdrawing from Syria. We're live.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [09:15:00] SCIUTTO: New this morning, there's a lot new this morning. But listen to this, a scathing report in the "Wall Street Journal" says that President Trump's former personal lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen hired a firm to rig online polls to help then candidate. CNN now exclusively has this statement confirming that story from Michael Cohen himself.

It says the following: "what I did was at the direction of and for the sole benefit of Donald J. Trump. I truly regret my blind loyalty to a man who doesn't deserve it." Implicating the president --

HARLOW: Right --

SCIUTTO: In this payment.

HARLOW: And again that coming from Michael Cohen exclusively to CNN this morning. So what is this "Wall Street Journal" story about? Well, Cohen allegedly gave the owner of a pretty small tech company thousands of dollars in cash in a Wal-Mart bag when he came to Trump Tower as payment for writing online scripts to help Trump score better in polls, rigging online polls to the benefit of the president.

With us now is MJ Lee; CNN national political correspondent. Anything here illegal?

MJ LEE, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, just to add to the growing list of --

HARLOW: Yes --

LEE: Bizarre Michael Cohen headlines. Let me just walk you through the "Wall Street Journal" story. It is reporting that in 2015, a man named John Gouger(ph), he runs a tech company as you said, Poppy, went to Trump Tower to collect $50,000 for work that he did for Michael Cohen to try to rig online polls for then candidate Donald Trump who was running for president so that he could have better poll numbers.

Now, we don't know if that effort was successful, but this was the work that he says he performed for Michael Cohen on Donald Trump's behalf. Now, the story says that Michael Cohen handed over to John Gouger(ph), this guy, a Wal-Mart bag full of around $12,000 in cash.

Now, Cohen to the "Wall Street Journal" denies that piece of the reporting, says that all moneys paid to Mr. Gouger(ph) were by check. So the cash bag part of this, Michael Cohen is denying. Now, Gouger(ph) goes on to claim in the "Wall Street Journal" that he did not get paid in full, that what was promised to him was the $50,000.

But what the "journal" is also reporting, and this is significant, is that in 2017, even though Michael Cohen did not pay this full amount to this guy who was trying to rig the online polls for Donald Trump, that Cohen still asked Donald Trump for the full payment of $50,000, and that he was paid this money.

[09:20:00] So again, just to emphasize the headline from this story is that Michael Cohen paid this guy around $12,000 to $13,000 according to this person. And then two years later, he asked Donald Trump for more money than what he allegedly paid out of his pocket. And Poppy, according to that statement that you just read from Michael Cohen that we just got, all of this comes back to loyalty.

Michael Cohen's defense now for a while has been that all of these things that he did that were frankly really sketchy, he did out of blind loyalty to Donald Trump. This is obviously going to be a huge narrative that we see when Michael Cohen testifies in Congress next month.

HARLOW: Yes, is set for -- that testimony, MJ, you know set for February 7th. And you're learning some new details about the concerns he has about testifying before Congress. What are they?

LEE: That's right. I mean, we are learning that Michael Cohen is basically concerned about his family. This is obviously going to be a huge day on Capitol Hill. We are all going to be covering this very closely. And Michael Cohen's concern right now remains his family and what all of this would do to them.

And this is not a new concern that we are learning about. Even when he was under investigation as Michael Cohen was waiting for months to get his sentencing finally from the judge here in New York, he was afraid of the toll that all of this was taking on his family.

And keep in mind, too, his concern for his family was actually the reason that he made some of his legal decisions that he made as he was waiting for his sentencing. Even before he was able to get a full cooperation with prosecutors, he decided he's going to get the sentencing on the day that was originally determined because his strategy was, I want to put this behind me as quickly as possible so that I can move on and so that my family can move on.

SCIUTTO: MJ Lee, thanks very much.

HARLOW: Paul Callan is back with us. Just the legal question here, right? I mean, did he admit to a crime here by confirming that, yes, I did this, but it was at the sole benefit of and direction of the president?

PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: He quite possibly did. There's a federal crime called wire fraud or mail fraud where if you use federal mails or telephones or the internet to communicate over wires and to defraud somebody, that's a federal crime.

HARLOW: So this would be in essence defrauding the American people.

CALLAN: Yes, and the --

SCIUTTO: How about the president as well? I mean, if Cohen --

HARLOW: Well, Cohen --

SCIUTTO: Is saying the president directed him.

HARLOW: Oh, good point -- CALLAN: Yes, he does, so that would pull the president, too. But

here's the problem with the theory actually being used by prosecutors. You'd probably wipe out half the Congress because everybody exaggerates what they're doing in the polls or they discredit a poll --

SCIUTTO: But pay someone off to --

CALLAN: Well --

SCIUTTO: Pay someone off to skew the polls?

CALLAN: I don't know, prosecutors will look at this and say, will every opponent of another candidate claim that he's using rigged polls? I think -- I think you could make a criminal case out of it, but I think it would be a tough one. The other problem here that I see with Michael Cohen is that obviously he only paid the guy that he hired to rig the polls $13,000 or $12,000, but he billed the --


CALLAN: President $50,000 --


CALLAN: So Trump is going to come in and say, I'm the victim of Michael Cohen, he defrauded me --


CALLAN: As well as --

HARLOW: Well --

CALLAN: Maybe the public.

HARLOW: And this, you know, the "Wall Street Journal" says that, look, the Trump org didn't ask what the money was for, and Cohen needed $50,000 and Cohen didn't say --

CALLAN: There's a lot more details we need on this Michael Cohen story --

SCIUTTO: Right --

CALLAN: To see how it plays out --

SCIUTTO: Cohen saying explicitly to CNN, he did this at the direction of --


SCIUTTO: The president.


SCIUTTO: Significant.


HARLOW: Paul --

CALLAN: It's been a tough day for Mr. Trump today, I'll tell you that --

HARLOW: Told me, it's 9:23 in the --

CALLAN: Yes --

HARLOW: Morning. Thanks very much, Paul.


HARLOW: So the president also we know has met, talking with Vladimir Putin five times, often privately. Sometimes without -- you know, sometimes only with a single translator in the room or very few others. And at least one occasion, the president confiscated notes from that interpreter, telling them not to speak about the meeting to anyone.

SCIUTTO: This morning, the "New York Times" reporting the following, quote, "the day after those two meetings as Mr. Trump was on Air Force One, taken off from Germany, heading back to Washington, he telephoned a "New York Times" reporter and argued that the Russians were falsely accused of election interference.

It might surprise you who he was basing that on. We now know that the reporter was David Sanger. Sanger, we spoke with him just a few moments ago.


SCIUTTO: Joining us now is David Sanger, the man on the other end of that phone call from this really amazing phone call from --

HARLOW: Yes --

SCIUTTO: The president to say the least. So to be clear here, the president of the United States was parroting a talking point supplied to him by the Russian president over the confident judgment of the U.S. Intelligence community.

DAVID SANGER, NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: That's right, and he did it publicly as well, Jim, shortly after that. He had been in Hamburg, he was at the summit, it was the first time he really met Putin.

After he had these two conversations with Putin, he called me from Air Force One as he was taking off. Most of the conversation was off the record and I respected that. But he did say much of this publicly, shortly after he landed several times.

[09:25:00] And basically, his line was Putin has made the argument to me, he said that the Russians are so good at cyber, that had they hacked in to the DNC, they never would have been seen. And he said, I think that's pretty convincing.

And he knows I write a lot about cyber issues and so forth. And so he said, you know, don't you agree? I said, well, you've seen the intelligence report, they not only say that Putin knew about it, they say that Putin ordered it.

HARLOW: So you pointed out what the U.S. Intelligence community --

SANGER: Oh, yes.

HARLOW: All assessed to him, just to remind him --

SANGER: Yes --

HARLOW: Lest he not remember.


HARLOW: And his response to you, was?

SANGER: His response, Poppy, was that came from Comey and he's, you know, a political hack, he said. And that he by that time, he'd already fired Comey of course. It came from Brennan, it came from Clapper. And you know, they all can't be trusted.

I said, well, you know, it also came through Admiral Mike Rogers who was the head of the NSA --

HARLOW: Yes --

SANGER: Who at that point, he had just reappointed for a second year. And he said, oh, yes, great guy, terrific guy.

HARLOW: And disregarded --

SCIUTTO: Right --

HARLOW: The key point of that.

SCIUTTO: Right. You mentioned how he repeated his point publicly. Just to highlight that, a few days later he told "Reuters" someone did say if he did do it, you wouldn't have found out about it. Which is a very interesting point. We now that somebody appears to be --

SANGER: Vladimir --

SCIUTTO: Vladimir Putin. He repeated the same to the pool that same day. If they were involved, you wouldn't have found out about it, OK, which is a very interesting point, almost repeating the language there.

In your view, does the president not understand that this assessment is the broad assessment of the broad U.S. Intelligence community, many agencies involved here. Does he not understand that, think it's purely a political judgment by his political enemies or does he just not want to accept that?

SANGER: It's a really good question, Jim, because that would require getting inside his mind of what he knew. He got briefed on this by the intelligence chiefs during the transition. It was the same briefing in which Mr. Comey told him about the steel memorandum, the dossier as we call it now.

He probably remembers the dossier more than almost anything else. What's happened since that conversation though should really drive home the point, which is that special counsel Mueller has indicted the members of the GRU, the Russian Military Intelligence.

In the course of that, he picked up conversations -- or he has in the indictment, conversations between members of the GRU --

HARLOW: Right --

SANGER: About the hacking.

HARLOW: Right --


HARLOW: Timing here matters a lot for a number of reasons. He called you as Air Force One was taking off.

SANGER: That's right.

HARLOW: This same flight now made famous by the revelation that he dictated the statement that would then come out subsequently about the Trump Tower meeting with Paul Manafort, Don Jr.

SCIUTTO: A false statement. I mean, really --

HARLOW: Same flight.

SANGER: Same flight. Whatever happened, they're like watching movies once the plane takes off? Yes, same flight.

HARLOW: Significant, the time --

SANGER: It is. It is. I mean, he was dealing with both what Putin said to him and what he had been told was an impending "New York Times" story about the --

HARLOW: Russia --

SANGER: Trump Tower --

HARLOW: Yes --

SANGER: Meeting --

HARLOW: Yes --

SANGER: And Don Jr., and they came up with this -- HARLOW: Yes --

SANGER: Story that was all about adoptions.

SCIUTTO: And both were fundamentally misleading statements --

HARLOW: Yes --

SCIUTTO: We should highlight as well --

SANGER: Yes --

HARLOW: David Sanger, thank you.

SCIUTTO: Thank you as always --

HARLOW: For the reporting --

SANGER: Thank you.


SCIUTTO: Quite a revelation there as the shutdown drags on with really no end in sight. Hundreds of thousands of furloughed workers struggle to pay for the most basic items. So how will this shutdown end? We're going to speak to a congressman who met with President Trump yesterday.

HARLOW: Plus, we're moments away from the opening bell on Wall Street. It is looking like a weaker open. The Dow pointing slightly higher though, the Nasdaq down. This as the nation's biggest banks wrap up earnings season today.

Lower-than-expected numbers from Morgan Stanley, a big concern for investors. We'll have that in a minute.