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Giuliani Comments on Collusion; Negotiating a Deal; Divide on the Wall; Cohen Rigged Polls. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired January 17, 2019 - 12:00   ET



[12:00:234] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. Thank you for sharing your day with us.

Another giant story change from the president's top lawyer. Rudy Giuliani now says maybe Trump campaign aides did communicate or collude with Russians, but he says it's no big deal because the candidate himself didn't.

Plus long-time Trump fixer Michael Cohen tells CNN, the boss directed him to rig polls to help generate fake news about Trump's popularity. Rigged polls. Fake news. Go figure.

And they're still sparring over who's to blame for the partial government shutdown, but today the president and the speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, united and taking time to pay tribute to four Americans killed yesterday in that suicide bombing in Syria.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I want to take 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.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D), HOUSE SPEAKER: Sadly, this week was marked by the great tragedy of our losing our brave men and women in uniform when they were killed in a terror attack in Syria. So very, very sad.


KING: Amen to that.

We begin today with an eye-popping statement and a significant story change from the president's lead attorney. Rudy Giuliani telling CNN there might well have been cooperation or collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.


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


GIULIANI: I have no idea if -- I have not.

CUOMO: You --

GIULIANI: 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 Russian to hack the DNC.


KING: Now set the faulty spin about the only crime you could commit here. Faulty spin about the law. Set that aside for a moment.

That is a dramatic real-time revision of a Trump administration constant, that there was no collusion, full stop. On the president's Twitter feed alone, 60 tweets feature the no collusion defense. Now, Rudy Giuliani wants you to ignore everything you've heard and heard before and believe this.



CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Was working on an issue at the same time as the convention.

GIULIANI: He said he didn't. He said he didn't. He didn't say nobody. How would you know?


KING: Now, you just heard him. What he just said requires you to suspend logic and forget that the president's lawyer himself and the president forget that they ever said this.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 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?


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


KING: That was then, and here we are, this is now.

With me to share their reporting and their insights, NPR's Tamara Keith, CNN's Phil Mattingly, CNN's Evan Perez, and Juana Summers of "The Associated Press." Let me start with you. Your reporting is on the investigation. Not the first time Rudy Giuliani has come out and said, forget everything that you have on tape, forget everything the president has said, forget everything I have said, forget everything that has been documented, we have a new story. Why?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think Rudy is trying to do the right thing here for his client, which is to try to get some distance between President Trump and candidate Trump and Paul Manafort, the chairman of the campaign, who it was revealed in the court filings this -- in the last couple of weeks had been sharing internal poll data with people who were connected to the Russian government, according to the special counsel.

So I think they -- well, you know, based on our own reporting behind the scenes, they realize that this is something they need to do. They should have probably done this a while ago. But I think now is probably better than never, right? But even just the comments that Rudy Giuliani made to Chris Cuomo last night, I mean this is like cleanup in aisle Rudy, right, where he has to come back and fix it again in clarifying it to Dana Bash this morning that essentially he says, you know, I don't represent the Trump campaign. I represent President Trump. And that's really what I was talking about.

So I -- look, I think this is where they needed to get to, legally, politically. It just took a while for them to get there.

KING: Right. And he, by default, he -- his choice, mentioned the DNC hack, too. We know another area the special counsel is looking into is, were there some communications between the president's ally, Roger Stone, Roger Stone's friend the conservative author Jerome Corsi, were there some communications with WikiLeaks, with Julian Assange. We know that's a subject of inquiry, too. So I found it interesting that he brought that up because they know a lot more than we know.

[12:05:04] But on the question of the Manafort polling, he also tried to make the case to Chris Cuomo, so Paul Manafort, and campaign chairman, the campaign for president, Donald Trump is the nominee, he's not running for mayor, he's running for president of the United States, shares this polling with Russians Paul Manafort knows because of his work have ties to the Kremlin. Rudy Giuliani says, so what.




GIULIANI: Look, because poling data is given to everybody.

CUOMO: What?

GIULIANI: I mean he shouldn't have given it to them. It's wrong to give it to them.

CUOMO: No, it's not given to everybody. GIULIANI: And I can't speak for Paul Manafort. Of course it is. First of all, the most inappropriate, the most inaccurate stuff is internal polling data. All of it is cooked.


KING: I've been covering campaigns for 32 years, I think, if my math is correct. I don't know of any campaign that says, hey, guess what, I shared my polling with the Russians, with the French, with friendly governments, non-friendly governments. Anybody else?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I think the other issue too is, I was always told the internal polling data was the correct data and it was the outside polling data that was the wrong data.

KING: All right, we're making -- I'm --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's what the campaigns usually say.

KING: I'm making light of this because of the absurdity of what Giuliani said.


KING: But if you have -- we don't know this. We cannot connect these dots. The special counsel is trying to see if they can be connected. If you have internal polling data that say, here are our strengths, we need these people to show up. Here are our weaknesses. If these people show up, we lose this state, and the Russians have that. Why they have this inactive Internet trolling operation designed to help Trump and hurt Clinton, that's gold.

MATTINGLY: Right. And I think that was why, and Evan pointed out, when this showed up in the court filing, kind of sirens went off across the board. It's like, OK, this is actual substantive documentation of something trading hands that could have a tangible effect on how somebody would operate if they wanted to mess around with the election. And I think the difficulty with Rudy Giuliani right now, and I think a lot of us heard it last night and thought, does he know something's coming?

KING: Right.

MATTINGLY: We've seen this before where he looks like he steps in something, but, in fact, what he's doing is laying the groundwork for something.

Now, when he told Dana Bash that he didn't know anything in advance, but I think the bigger question right now is, all right, as you always point out, they know more than we know. The special counsel knows more than everybody. Is there some effort here to lay the groundwork for something? And while Rudy Giuliani says no, I think that's the big question, particularly given what we've seen in the court filings.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Right. KING: And to that point, exhibit a of this is what Rudy Giuliani does.

You mentioned cleanup on aisle Rudy. Exhibit a in that is that he went out -- and we all have our heads snap back, when, remember, for months and months and months, just like no collusion, no one in the Trump campaign, that's what the president said, no one in the Trump campaign, not just him, for months and months and months they said, payments to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal? The president had nothing to do with any of that. And then Rudy Giuliani went on television and --


RUDY GIULIANI, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S LAWYER: 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. No campaign finance violation. So --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They funneled it through the law firm.

GIULIANI: Funneled through a law firm and then the president repaid it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, I didn't know -- he did?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's no campaign finance law?



KING: That's up -- that's -- you don't decide that on cable television, you decide that looking at the laws and then maybe potentially in a courtroom, but --

TAMARA KEITH, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, NPR: Well, yes, and Michael Cohen, the president's attorney, who was involved in that transaction, has pleaded guilty to a campaign finance violation. So, under the eyes of the law, at this point it was against the law.

The thing to know about Rudy Giuliani is he is part of the president's legal team. He is the public face of the president's legal team most of the time. He's sort of the TV lawyer. But he's not doing the nitty- gritty legal work of building the defense. He's doing the public defense. And so what you -- what I take from him coming out is that he is doing -- he is making a public relations case. He is trying to work the refs ahead of what may be coming.

KING: To work the refs because one of the bigger questions is, is whatever Bob Mueller decides from a legal perspective, there will be a political conversation, especially now that the Democrats control the House. Will they go ahead with impeachment? Will they call up witnesses on all the -- even if they don't go ahead with impeachment, they can investigate every single one of these questions for the next two years while they're in power in the House. And that's the -- are those the refs he's working?

JUANA SUMMERS, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, ASSOCIATED PRESS: You're absolutely right, John, and this is happening not only as there is now an era of divided government with Democrats controlling the House and therefore having the ability to press (ph) as many investigations as they want.

This also happens against the backdrop of a presidential campaign in which President Trump is running for re-election in what is expected to be an historically large field of Democrats who will also be able to take what is happening with the Mueller investigation, whatever we see unfold next, and there's so much to the other folks point that we don't know quite yet. They'll be able to use that to launch attacks, to attack the president's credibility, as we already see polling numbers show that this favorables are slipping, even among those within his base.

KING: How much do we know, Evan, still? Many of the lawyers who were sharing information with the Trump legal team have stopped doing so because Mr. Gates is a cooperating witness now, Mr. Manafort is a cooperating witness now, although there are questions about that.

PEREZ: Right.

KING: The special counsel said, maybe not.

Do we know -- we know Roger Stone is a friend of the president. I suspect everything he hears from the special counsel gets relayed to team Trump. Do we know how many other lawyers are still doing that? I'm just asking the question in the context of, what does Rudy Giuliani know that we don't?

[12:10:07] PEREZ: Well, and I think people like Roger Stone, Jerome Corsi, people like that have been providing information to the president's lawyers. And, of course, Jared Kushner, his and Donald Trump Junior's attorneys are also sharing information. But I think you're right, I mean what you're seeing is -- you know, there's -- there's a -- sort of a closing in of the circle here, and what it means is that the president's lawyers are ever more in the dark because they don't know what else Mueller has. He may have intelligence intercepts showing that people in -- you know, on the Russian side were talking about what they were hearing from inside the Trump campaign. And so these are the types of things that they are completely in the dark about and it's unnerving. That's what you're seeing from Rudy Giuliani because this polling thing was a very big surprise to them, and it unnerves them to no end.

KING: Well, you see them trying to work the refs. I like that term.

Up next for us, we'll keep an eye on that. Up next, the president says the Democratic Party has been hacked. The president says by the radical left.


[12:15:11] KING: Today, day 27 of the partial government shutdown. That's 27 days of a stalemate between the president and the Democrats. And this spoiler alert, you probably already know this, there's no end in sight.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi defending her decision to suggest President Trump reschedule his State of the Union Address. She says his demands are a luxury. Listen.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D), HOUSE SPEAKER: I'm not denying (INAUDIBLE) at all. I'm just saying, let's get a date when government is open. Let's pay the employees. Maybe he thinks it's OK not to pay people who do work. I don't. And my caucus doesn't either.

The president's insistence is a luxury the country -- insistence on the wall is a luxury the country can no longer afford.


KING: Now, the Republicans not only say you need the wall, they say Pelosi is playing politics by trying to delay or cancel the State of the Union Address.

The president, just moments ago, taking it one step further, saying she, meaning Pelosi, and other radical Democrats, as the president calls them, have hijacked the party.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We need strong barriers and walls. Nothing else is going to work.

While many Democrats in the House and Senate would like to make a deal, Speaker Pelosi will not let them negotiate. The party has been hijacked by the open borders fringe within the party. The radical left becoming the radical Democrats.


KING: CNN's Abby Phillip is live for us at the White House.

Abby, when you list to the speaker and you listen to the president, things certainly don't appear to be getting any closer. Any progress maybe behind the curtain?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I think you're exactly right, John. If you look at that speech from earlier this morning, it really gives you a window into President Trump's state of mind. He spent a few minutes talking about the attacks in Syria yesterday, but gave a lengthy speech -- a section of his speech dedicated almost entirely to his desire for a border wall.

Now, the president, in those comments this morning, just like in all the previous days of this 27-day shutdown, has not changed his language at all. He hasn't changed his demands and is not moving off of his mark. And the sense that we get here at the White House is that really nothing has changed. Those moderate Democrats came to the White House and met with President Trump, which by all accounts was a pretty collegiate meeting, but there was no progress, no breakthroughs happening as a result of that.

And one added wrinkle to this is the fact that Nancy Pelosi has asked the president to postpone or perhaps cancel his plans to give a State of the Union Address on the 29th of January, which is in about a week and a half. And the White House is still deliberating on how to respond to that.

It's been interesting to see them not really respond formally to this, which is really a shot across the bow from Nancy Pelosi at the president. President Trump hasn't even mentioned it in his Twitter remarks this morning.

So what we are hearing from White House aides is that they're still trying to figure out what to do here. Should President Trump give his own remarks in some other kind of venue to perhaps further prosecute this case for a border wall? But at the end of the day, if on the 29th of January this shutdown is still going on, it's clearly a sign that this process is not moving forward in any way, shape or form, the fact that they are considering some alternative venue for a State of the Union Address, John.

KING: I think it's fair to say, actually at the moment, there doesn't even appear to be a process to be broken. There's not a process.

Abby Phillip, appreciate it, live at the White House.

Michael Shear of "The New York Times" joins our conversation.

And that is what makes this stunning. There are some small groups meeting from time to time if you talk to people around the White House or people who take phone calls from the White House. They say there are some presidential aides calling around saying, you know, where's the deal? You don't hear that from the president and you don't hear that from the speaker at all.

I just want -- an NPR/Marist poll out today. The question is, will something cause somebody to blink? And if you're asking the question, will the president blink first, if you look at these polling numbers among registered voters, his approval rating is down. Among Republicans, it's down a little bit, don't over exaggerate that but it's down a little bit. White men, no college degrees, it's down a bit. White women, no college degrees, down a bit more significantly. Pieces of the president's base, it's one poll, although CNN had a poll that had similar numbers to some degree.

I, you know, don't go running off to Vegas, but if you're the president, this is the beginning of your ramp-up to re-election. You're in this government shutdown. You're seeing turmoil in the economy and you see your numbers going down a little bit. Is that enough to get him to say, let's somehow find an opening here?

KEITH: Though the other challenge he faces is that he ran for president as a guy who can make the deals. He's the deal maker. Elect me, I'm the one who can make the deals. The other thing he ran for president on was building the wall. Now these things are linked and he can't unlink them. He can't get out without making some sort of a deal. And he's in a really, really tough spot there.

MICHAEL SHEAR, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Well, and he appears to be recognizing it. Whether the public rhetoric hasn't changed with -- which I think is true, right, there hasn't been to be any sort of like crack in his public rhetoric. But my colleagues at "The Times" reported that he is in private frustrated and upset that why -- and fuming and all of the things that we always say about him. I think the quote that was attributed to him was he -- you know, we're getting crushed on this because, guess what, he's watching TV. And even on Fox News, even on the places that he watches, this is playing out in a way that isn't beneficial to him politically. And I think he recognizes that. And if there's anything that he cares about, it's what he looks like on TV.

[12:20:33] KING: So, but where is the off ramp? What force convinces one, meaning the president and the speaker, or both, meaning the president and the speaker, to decide we've got to try to be grown-ups here. And I ask the -- in this, there are many issues, but immigration as much if not more than any other issue proves the two Americas we live in. Pew asked this question, of adults, do you favor or not favor a border wall along the southern border? Eighty-two percent of Republicans favor it, 6 percent of Democrats favor it. I mean there are two Americas when it comes to this issue, which is why the president says he's fighting for one and Speaker Pelosi says she's fighting for the other.

SUMMERS: And I think that's why you have this game of brinksmanship. Look, if you are a Republican, in think you want the president to hold his ground because, if he doesn't, and say we're going to temporarily stop the shutdown, that would get the 800,000 people in this country who aren't getting paychecks, they'd be getting paid again, what incentive then would Democrats, who hate the wall, who don't want to be seen as dealing with this president to cut any sort of deal with him.

On the other side, on the other hand, you have Democrats who feel like if they negotiate with the shutdown, then they're opening the door for the president to use this exact same tactic on any number of other issues that he wants to highlight as he's looking to run for president. They think the problem and why things are so stuck is there's no real incentives for anyone and it's leaving a lot of Americans' lives and essential services hanging in the balance.

KING: And where you work on The Hill, is there -- are there any cracks apparent in the sense -- and I keep saying this, I know of a half dozen or so Republicans who have come forward, Republican senators. That's not enough. That's not enough. You would have to probably double that to get the leader's attention and then the leader would have to get the president's attention.

But you do have Ron Johnson, a Trump ally in most cases, Republican of Wisconsin, saying right now, are you seeing any pressure on the Democrats? I think Republicans are getting the lion's share of the pressure. The president accepted the blame, so people are happy to give it to him.

That a reference to the president's Oval Office meeting with Chuck and Nancy, as he calls them, where he said I'll proudly shut down the government in this fight for border security.

MATTINGLY: I think the thing that I've been struck by is the weeks, days, then weeks have went on, is just how little, from the most part, when you talk to rank and file Republicans, they're feeling this right now. And I was talking to Republican leadership aides in the House who said, look, our guys don't want to move on this. They feel far more pain if they cross the president in their districts than anything else.

You talk about the Senate. Yes, five, six. There's a group trying to work, unsuccessfully, and a gang trying to kind of wriggle out of this right now. They're not representative of the border 53 member Republican conference. And so as long as that's the case, leadership isn't going to change their position. Leadership's not going to pick up the phone and call the president and say, look, our guy have a problem here, we have to move. And if that doesn't occur, then what triggers the president?

One of the most interesting elements I think of the last couple weeks is everybody saying, all right, what's the trigger that gets the president? What changes the dynamic here? Because as Juana points out, the incentives are misaligned right now and there hasn't been any sign that they've been lining up any time soon.

What people are settling on right now is economic indicators in the market moving in a significant manner might be the one thing that reaches him. But even that, even when you have the Council of Economic Advisers coming out and saying there's going to be a pretty significant impact on GDP, even that people are unsure of because of the fight, the fight he wants and the fight that he continues to believe he has to have.

KING: And if -- if he gets -- if, if, if, I say if he gets to that point and he signals he's willing to take a lot less for his border wall. The question is, will the House Democrats give him any? They are still right now in the no. So we've got a ways to go, day 27 and counting.

Up next, the president's former long-time fixer admits trying to fix online polls. Rigged polls. Get the irony?


[12:28:24] KING: Now we all know the president likes to complain about rigged polls and fake news. Well, now we know he likes to rig polls to generate fake news.

Former Trump fixer Michael Cohen admitted today, as first reported by "The Wall Street Journal," that he hired a tech company back in 2014, and then again in 2015, to try to rig a pair of online popularity polls in Donald Trump's favor. The hope was it would generate favorable headlines and cable chatter. The first, a CNBC ranking of top business leaders in the country. The other, a "Drudge Report" poll of respective Republican 2016 candidates. The cost, $50,000 reimbursement to Cohen for, quote, tech services paid out by the Trump Organization.

In a statement this morning, Cohen saying this to CNN, what I did was at the direction and for the sole benefit of Donald J. Trump. I truly regret my blind loyalty to a man who doesn't deserve it.

CNN's MJ Lee obtained that statement and joins us now live.

MJ, what more can you tell us about this bizarre story?

MJ LEE, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: It is bizarre, indeed, and just fascinating because, as you said, the president loves to complain about rigged polls, but apparently doesn't have such an issue when he's rigging them for himself.

Here's "The Wall Street Journal" story. It says that Michael Cohen hired this man, John Gouger (ph), who works for a tech company and is also an employee at Liberty University in Virginia, to rig online polls to make Donald Trump look good.

Now, in early 2015, "The Journal" says that Gouger went to Trump Tower to get his payment of $50,000 from Michael Cohen. According to "The Journal," Michael Cohen handed him a Walmart bag full of cash, but of only $12,000, $12,000 to $13,000, the story said, instead of the full $50,000 payment.