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Trump Denies Military Aircraft for Pelosi's War Zone Trip; Giuliani Says Campaign May Have Colluded, but Trump Didn't Know; Cohen Admits He Hired Firm to Rig Online Polls in Trump's Favor; Interview with Enes Kantor, Knick's Player Wanted by Turkey for Terrorism. Aired 3:30-4p ET

Aired January 17, 2019 - 15:30   ET



[15:30:00] REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY, (R) HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: Why would you leave the country with government shutdown and you're Speaker of the House?


BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: That was House minority leader, Kevin McCarthy, there reacting as were hearing, you know, obviously, decide from the Republicans saying in the middle of the shutdown 20 days in, why should the Speaker of the House even be leaving the country? But then, of course, the other side, you would have Democrats saying, well, the government's shutdown, it's important to go on these Congressional delegations to learn about war zones. To go to the NATO headquarters in Brussels to be just better-informed humans working there on Capitol Hill.

David Axelrod is joining me now. And David Axelrod, I don't know, the last hour and a half you've been listening to as we've been in this breaking news and all these different moving parts and what the President's saying and what he's doing, what say you?

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well look, on one level, you can say Nancy Pelosi played hard ball with the President by asking him to postpone the State of the Union, strongly suggesting that he do that. He fired a spit ball back today by canceling her trip and there's that level that we can talk about. But it is -- there are a couple of things that I think should be noted. One is, you know, leader McCarthy said how could she leave.

The fact is the House has passed a bill that would open up the government and the Senate a few weeks ago in a bipartisan way passed a bill that would open up the government. So, it's really the President who has kept the government closed in order to try and force his will on this wall issue, so that's point number one. The second is, I was very much in agreement with General Hurtling that these are not as the President described in his letter --

BALDWIN: Public relations. AXELROD: -- public relations event. She is the highest-ranking member

of the Congress. She was leading a Congressional delegation to two very, very significant places, Brussels, Egypt and, of course, Afghanistan. And it is worrisome for the President of the United States to be yanking military planes from the leadership of the Congress to prevent them from fact finding, to prevent them from communing with leaders around the world. So on that level, you know, the tit for tat has real consequences and unfortunate consequences.

BALDWIN: So you talked about firing back a spit ball, who's going to be the adult in the room?

AXELROD: Well, you mean -- I don't know if I'd put it in those terms. I think politics being what it is, someone is going to have to make a decision that they are not gaining from this and right now that appears to be the President. You look at all the polling and it is increasingly clear that he is losing this fight and he is I'm sure trying to find a way out of it. But at some point, you have to take into account that a majority of the country opposes the shutdown, a majority of the country opposes the wall and come back and be willing to make some concessions. And thus far he apparently is not willing to do that. Until he does that, I think we're in a stalemate.

BALDWIN: What about Leader McCarthy's point in that of the White House that it is day 27 of a government shutdown and as important as going to those places certainly is for these members of Congress led by the House Speaker, should they really be gone during this government shutdown?

AXELROD: Well, I guess the question is what exactly is happening that would -- I think it's a very good question, but what is happening that would occasion the need for her because until the President decides that he wants to reopen the government, the Congress has made it very clear that we're in a status quo situation. I presume that modern communications being what they are, if the President were to have a change of heart --

BALDWIN: He could call her.

AXELROD: It would be pretty easy to get a hold of the Speaker. It's a good talking point. I'm not sure that it's particularly valid.

BALDWIN: David Axelrod, thank you very much.

AXELROD: All right, Brooke.

BALDWIN: We are going to take a quick break. The other big news of the day, the President's lawyer now saying it is possible the Trump campaign colluded with Russia. And the President's former lawyer, Michael Cohen admits to paying to rig online polls during the campaign. Michael Smerconish joins me next.


BALDWIN: We're back with the breaking news. Sunlen Serfaty is there on Capitol Hill with what we now have, the House Speaker's response to this latest tit for tat from the President. Go for it, Sunlen.

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. The first words we've heard from Nancy Pelosi since President Trump issued that letter earlier today. She says in her statement, quote, the CODEL -- and this is the spokesman Drew Hamel. The statement says.

The CODEL to Afghanistan requires a stop in Brussels for a pilot rest. In Brussels the delegation was scheduled to meet with top NATO commanders, U.S. military leaders and key allies to affirm the United States' iron clad commitment to the NATO alliance. This weekend visit to Afghanistan did not include a stop to Egypt.

[15:40:00] The purpose of the trip was to express appreciation and thanks to our men and women in uniform for their service and dedication and to obtain critical national security in intelligence briefings from those on the frontlines.

The President traveled to Iraq during the Trump shutdown as did a Republican CODEL led by Representative Zeldin.

So here you have really Nancy Pelosi spokesman refuting some of the details of President Trump what he said about the CODEL and certainly his reasons for canceling it.

I should also point out that while she doesn't say the CODEL in her opinion is on or not, she uses past tense here. She said, the purpose of this trip was to express appreciation, of course, to the servicemen and women over in Afghanistan.

Now, Brooke, I know in the last hour we've talked about this, the bus, the bus that was supposed to bring lawmakers to the airport to fly on this CODEL, it has now -- we've chased it a few stops on the U.S. capitol complex. It has been idling on a step outside in front of the U.S. Capitol for some kind now. By my count, looking through the window it only looks about three people are inside the bus right now. We saw a short time ago the sergeant-at-arms come out and he came out with someone from Nancy Pelosi's office, scheduler and Nancy Pelosi's office. So I think again, all of this confusion over the bus speaks to the confusion of the moment for many of these lawmakers who did not know where they were going. It stopped at multiple spots on Capitol Hill, picked up some people, dropped off other people. It speaks to this back and forth between the White House and Capitol Hill -- Brooke.

Sunlen Serfaty, thank you very much. We'll come back to this in just a moment.

But to the other huge story of the day. Stop me if you've heard this one before, no collusion.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There has been no collusion between the Trump campaign and Russians.

TRUMP: There was no collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian people.

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


BALDWIN: And it's not just the President. No collusion can be heard far and wide from members all over Trump's inner circle and among them, his own attorney, Rudy Giuliani.


CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: 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?



BALDWIN: And if someone did collude with Russia, Giuliani's response was, nah.


GIULIANI: I've been sitting here looking at the federal code trying to find collusion as a crime.


GIULIANI: Collusion is not a crime.


BALDWIN: So just to recap, the first story was that there's no collusion. Then it changed to if there was collusion, it wasn't a crime and now we know that Paul Manafort, Trump's campaign chairman, shared polling data with a Russian businessman linked to the Kremlin which sounds an awful like collusion. So it appears Mr. Giuliani is having a change of heart. But the President shouldn't be worried, because like any good attorney Giuliani is pointing the finger away from his client and towards everybody else.


GIULIANI: I never said there was no collusion between the campaign or between people in the campaign --

CUOMO: Yes, you have.

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 can commit here, conspired with the Russians to hack the DNC.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BALDWIN: And let's go again on Chris Cuomo's reaction.


GIULIANI: I never said there was no collusion between the campaign --


BALDWIN: Record scratch. Let me bring in -- record scratch there . Let me bring in CNN political commentator, Michael Smerconish. And Michael Smerconish, I mean watching that interview, you know, it's like you can see all these things when you look at Rudy Giuliani and you look at Cuomo, the thought bubble is, say what?

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I was watching it in realtime. I never miss when Chris hosts Mayor Giuliani because the entertainment value is always a ten. They are like two relatives at a family picnic having a political squabble and they often make news. And they made news last night and I believe it was deliberate.

Say what you will about Mayor Giuliani, a lot of political disagreement about his view of the world these days, but he's a smart guy. That was very deliberate. That was not a slip of the tongue. It was an attempt by the Mayor to distance his client, the President, from Paul Manafort et al. and I think the only reasonable conclusion is to say that this development recently that quote/unquote, mistake by the Manafort lawyers because remember, that's supposedly how we are in the loop about him sharing that polling data.


SMERCONISH: Must have landed with a thunderclap in the White House. And finally, the President and Mayor Giuliani decide, you know, we need more distance from the campaign.

[15:45:00] We've got to change our tune and now say, no collusion, you know, at least with the President himself. One observation if I may -- Brooke.


SMERCONISH: I don't know how going forward the President or Giuliani can continue to use the word, witch hunt, because if they're no longer prepared to exonerate, you know, both the President and the campaign, how can it be a witch hunt if Paul Manafort is -- if Robert Mueller is rightfully looking at potential collusion by Paul Manafort?

BALDWIN: Sure. It wouldn't be unless -- I guess he's saying if the rest of the campaign maybe was in on it, but not the President, it would be a witch hunt, kind of sort of. But what I'm hearing you say is that the interview -- which I totally agree, is must see television with Cuomo -- so you think -- the question we've been asking a lot of people is, you know, when Giuliani comes on, often times he's trying to create this bright shiny object for everyone else to see. See, look over here. When really, you know, the penny's about to drop elsewhere. But you think it's because of the Manafort news and the sharing the data that he came on and did that?

SMERCONISH: I do. And while I watched last night -- and I'm not the only one to have this recollection -- but I was thinking of Mayor Giuliani on a different cable outlet a long time ago talking about the hush money payoffs. And a revelation that he made about a law firm's involvement and the way in which the transaction had been handled was then an eye opener. Well he got ahead of the curve in that case and maybe he's seeking to protect his client and get ahead of the curve in this case as well.

BALDWIN: Got you. Let me turn the page and ask you about what we've been talking about the last hour or so, this latest tit for tat, latest volley from the President. But it was Nancy Pelosi who sort of start it had yesterday saying you can't have your State of the Union on January 29th. You were on CNN floating the idea the President doing the State of the Union from battleground states. So what do you make of the latest -- the latest piece of news on this?

SMERCONISH: Tit for tat and with regard to this particular trip, what I find most significant, the itinerary. Afghanistan. Because to the President it's a PR event. I'm surprised he didn't use the word junket in that letter that he wrote, but to Nancy Pelosi, to Democrats, to supporters, it's a war zone. He prevented her from going to a war zone. That will probably -- pun intended -- trump the outcome in this part of the debate.

BALDWIN: Michael Smerconish, we watch you every Saturday morning, 9:00 a.m. here on CNN.

SMERCONISH: Thank you.

BALDWIN: Good to see you, my friend. Thank you very much.


BALDWIN: More on our breaking news and this, as Michael said it, tit for tat, next.


BALDWIN: The President's former fixer, Michael Cohen, is set to testify in Congress in just a couple weeks. But we're already getting stunning new details about his time at the top of the Trump empire. Cohen now admitting he tried to rig online polls in Trump's favor during the campaign.

[15:50:00] The story was first reported out by "The Wall Street Journal." And among some of the details, that Cohen actually paid a man between 12 and $13 in cash and that it was all bundled up in this blue Walmart bag and handed over this this guy. So, for his part, Cohen disputed the form of payment saying, no, no, no, it wasn't a bag of cash, it was a check. But he's not disputing that he handed the guy all this money.

And he tells CNN, quote, 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.

So, again, get the popcorn ready for that Congressional hearing February 7th. Joining me now, Lisa Lerer, a National Political Reporter for "The New York Times". And Lisa, I mean, this story today, you know, one school of thought would be no innocent story starts out with $13,000 in cash in a bag in a Walmart bag even though Cohen says it was a check. Am I right?

LISA LERER, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, THE NEW YORK TIMES: You're right. The details just keep coming and coming. So he did, you know, according to "The Wall Street Journal's" account, he paid $13,000 in the Walmart bag. But actually, he was stiffing the tech company that he had hired to rig those polls. Initially, he promised to pay them $50,000. So there were accusations of nonpayment. Part of what he asked this technology company to do was create a women love Cohen kind of Twitter account, that refer to him as a pit bull and something along the lines of a sex God I believe. Can I say that? Sex symbol.


LERER: And at the end of all this, the President didn't even win the polls that were rigged. I think in the first one he got about 5 percent and the second one, a Dredge Report poll he got fifth or so. So it wasn't even very effective, all this subterfuge and skullduggery and probably elicit and illegal operations. But it does give us an insight into what was going on during the President's campaign in the inner most reaches of his orbit. And those insights are not particularly flattering, politically or in terms of criminality.

BALDWIN: So, 30 seconds if they were willing to rig polls, Lisa, what else were they willing to do?

LERER: That is the million dollar, maybe $50,000 question here.

BALDWIN: $50,000 minus 13, yes.

LERER: Minus 13, right. I'm not going to give you the money in a bag, a Walmart bag but that is the question on the table. And that's certainly something that, you know, that you can guarantee that the House committee that will be speaking to Michael Cohen in about three weeks will be digging deeply into. And that's what has the people in Trump's circle really nervous, is what is going to happen in that committee hearing.

BALDWIN: February 7th. Lisa Lerer, thank you.

According to its state-run media, Turkey has just issued an arrest warrant for an NBA player claiming he is a terrorist. But Knicks center, Enes Kanter, says it's Turkey who's the dangerous one. And that is why he is not playing this London game against the Wizards just minutes from now. Kanter says he fears that he could be killed by the Turkish government if he leaves the United States. And when learning that he is the target of what's called an Interpol red notice, Kanter tweet this in response.

The only thing I've terrorized is the rim. The 26-year-old pro athlete has slammed Turkey's President, who has

arrested tens of thousands of his critics, as well as journalists. In 2017, Kanter called Turkey's leader, quote, the Hitler of our century. And Enes Kanter is with me now. So, thank you for coming to CNN.


BALDWIN: Let's start with why aren't you in London right now, playing this game?

KANTER: Oh, my heart hurts when I talk about this issue. Because until the London game, I have not missed a single game. And, you know, when I talked to my team there and team in the front office they said, you know, you have to miss a game because we don't feel -- we don't want you to go to London because it might be a very big issue. And I even told them I want to play with my team very bad because I don't feel safe there.

BALDWIN: What is it that you have done, that you have said that would make you not feel safe, that makes you think you could be arrested, could be killed?

KANTER: Well, I mean, if you look at what's happening in Europe and all-over other countries Erdogan operations all over the world --

BALDWIN: President Erdogan, the head of Turkey.

KANTER: Yes, and Turkish government is very famous for hunting down people who talk about the government and Erdogan. That's why I was scared of his long arms, that, you know, my life would be in danger.

BALDWIN: You believe that if you were to leave the United States that you could be killed?

KANTER: If I step outside of America, yes. But I feel really safe in America.

BALDWIN: Last month, the Turkish Foreign Minister said that the Trump administration is working to extradite the cleric, who you follow, Fethullah Gulen.


BALDWIN: However, we should point out on the U.S. side there has been no sign from Washington that the U.S. is moving ahead with this. What's your response to that?

KANTER: Well, I mean, Turkish government has been now trying to extradite him for five years with no evidence.

[15:55:02] And I visited once every two, three weeks. And he's, you know, an old man who lives a single life in Pennsylvania. And if I look at him, he doesn't even have a parking ticket. So, there are rules and laws in the United States. So that's why I don't think that would happen. BALDWIN: But apparently because of your following him, that this is

why the Turkish government believes you are -- they say you are a terrorist --


BALDWIN: -- because you support this cleric, who Erdogan blames for that coup in 2016. So what do you say to that?

KANTER: Well I was with Mr. Gulen in the coup night, in the same room. And when Mr. Gulen's assistant brought the news to Mr. Gulen, everybody in the room was so shocked and Mr. Gulen

BALDWIN: You where his alibi.

KANTER: I was in the same room with him. Everybody was so shocked. And Mr. Gulen was so sad and I remember with his own eyes, all he did was sit on his chair and pray for his country.

BALDWIN: Are you concerned because of, you know, your relationship with him, the things that you have said, you will be extradited?

KANTER: Like I said, like Mr. Gulen, I don't even have a speeding ticket. I don't even speed in America. I'm trying to become an American citizen and I hope in 2021, but I didn't do anything wrong. All I did is try to be the voice of all those innocent people.

BALDWIN: Let's talk about your family. Your father was sentenced to 15 years in prison in June of last year. And then in 2016, going back, your father disavowed you saying quote, I apologize to the Turkish people and the President for having such a son, Enes.

Tell me about your relationship with your father.

KANTER: Well, first of all, I haven't seen him since 2015. I forgot their voices. I don't know how they look like.

BALDWIN: How does it make you feel?

KANTER: It's chilling my heart, I'll be honest with you. But in 2017 when police came to my house in Turkey in 2015 and raided my house, they took every electronics away, phones away, computers away, the phones away, lap tops away, everything away. They wanted to see if I'm still in contact with my family or not. And if they were to see any little text message, hi mom, any missed phone call, hi dad, how are you doing. They will be all in jail right now. So, I don't want to risk my family's life or anybody's life that that could be sent to jail just because they're in communication with me.

BALDWIN: But for your father to say and apologizing to the Turkish people for having such a son.

KANTER: Well they would have to put a statement out there or they would-be all-in jail. And then, you know, it's very sad, because, like I said, in the end those people are my family. I want to talk to them. Of course I love them. I want to reach out to them. I want to talk to my mom. My mom probably worries so much about even like -- about everything. What I'm doing, what I'm eating, if I'm cold or not, if I'm sick or not. So that's why it's very tough.

BALDWIN: You were on Capitol Hill a couple of days ago. What are you asking from the U.S. government? What do you want?

KANTER: Well I meet with lots of Senators and Congressmen and they were very helpful. We talk about the extradite. We talk about Interpol. We talk about, you know, the issues and we talk about Erdogan and horrible abuse, human rights in Turkey. And I was very shocked because I was talking about this stuff. They stopped me. They're like don't worry about it. We already know all this stuff. And that made me very happy because that all these people, Congressmen, Senators know about --

BALDWIN: They're aware?


BALDWIN: They're aware and you said you feel safe in this country.


BALDWIN: My last question is just, you know, I can feel your sadness for your family, your passport has been taken away. You haven't been home since 2015?


BALDWIN: But you have been so outspoken --


BALDWIN: -- about Erdogan. Is it worth it?

KANTER: That's the question I get every day from my teammates, my friends, everybody asking me, are you crazy? I'm not crazy.

BALDWIN: I'm not asking you if you're crazy. I'm asking is it worth it?

KANTER: Yes, is it worth it. Well, I play in the NBA and I have a big platform. So I'm using my platform as the voice of all those innocent people. Because people know my story but there are thousands and thousands of people are out there, their voice is waiting to be heard. So my job is to be voice of all those of innocent people. I mean, in the end I'm a basketball player. I'm not a politician. I'm not a journalist. Some of the words I'm talking right now is the first ever I've used in my life, but I had to do this for innocent people and for all the journalists all in jail.

BALDWIN: Enes Kanter. Thank you so much.

KANTER: Thank you for inviting me, I appreciate it.

BALDWIN: And in the remaining time I have with you, there it is. This bus was supposed to have been in route to Andrews Air Force Base carrying the House Speaker and the CODEL -- that's the congressional delegation to ultimately a war zone, to Afghanistan.

It is day 27 of the shutdown and the latest in this tit for tat from the President is that he essentially pulled the military plane which they were planning on using. Nancy Pelosi has just responded. You're about to hear more. "THE LEAD" with Jake Tapper starts now.