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INSIDE POLITICS

Cohen Hired Firm To Rig Online Polls in Trump's Favor; Trump Hits On Border Security And NATO During Pentagon Speech; Sen. Paul: "We've Killed 99 Percent Of ISIS"; Beto O'Rourke Hits The Road As 2020 Decision Looms; .Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired January 17, 2019 - 12:30   ET

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


[12:30:01] MJ LEE, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Even though Gauger was only paid this amount of money, Michael Cohen then proceeded to in 2017. Go to Donald Trump and ask for the $50,000, which Donald Trump proceeded to pay.

Now, Michael Cohen tells the "Wall Street Journal", I should note, that the cash payment part of this is not true and this is actually the most sort of bizarre part of the story that he was handed a bag full of cash. Michael Cohen said to the journal, "All moneys paid to Mr. Gauger were by check, but clearly according to the statement that you just read, John, he is not denying that this poll rigging part of the story is in fact true and we are going to hear him say that's in public in February when Michael Cohen testifies in front of Congress because this is guaranteed now to be a story a lawmakers want to know more about.

And I just want to quickly add, the Liberty University has also given CNN a statement, commenting on Gauger calling him an outstanding employee of the university but they are not answering specific questions about what they might have known about this poll rigging. John.

JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: OK. And they may appreciate that there. I should know for the record the statement to provide to CNN's Tim Brown now straight to MJ there. Well MJ thank you, that's come in their end. In some ways this is bizarre and it's comedy. Michael Cohen also asked this tech guy apparently to set up a Twitter account women for Cohen to boost his profile.

So on the one hand it's like, you can't make this stuff up and if you brought this script to Hollywood, they would laugh you out the door. On the other hand though, it is significant because one of the things President Trump is trying to do is coffee boy Michael Cohen. Essentially say, "He was one of my lawyers. He did some low-rate stuff."

This story reminds us that the president can't do that. That Michael Cohen was his right-hand man, his dirty trickster, his fixer and that when President Trump was trying to boost himself, Michael Cohen was his point guy.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And I think it also underscores the fact that there is so much that we

don't know and Michael Cohen would be testifying publicly in front of a Democratic controlled oversight committee in just a short amount of time. And I think everybody thinks here every single day like, there is a new revelation or every other week. And it just underscores that there's a lot more that could come out and there's a reason why the White House isn't necessarily thrilled. There's going to be a public testimony.

I would also note I can't believe MJ left out the idea that there's apparently a UFC mixed martial arts boxing glove that was given as payment as well which is an interesting tactic. Maybe that works on your side as well.

No, I would say, one is the testimonies that I'm struck by and two is the fact that anybody who cover the campaign for any piece of time, it just underscores how kind of off the cuff jury-rigged not necessarily put together in a professional apparatus by kind of a random assortment of people. It was particularly in the earliest days.

KING: And now is president.

MATTINGLY: And now is president. And so apparently --

(CROSSTALK)

KING: All 40 Democrats running for the nomination is trying to copy. I'm sorry, go ahead.

MICHAEL SHEAR, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: And also but just the hotspot, right. The very things that the President has made his mission in life to attack, right. The idea of fake news is the sort of -- I mean, it's not like this is should be a huge surprise, right? But it's the thing that his own campaign trafficked in. And the thing that he denies which is the sort of manipulation of social media on behalf of his campaign is, again, the thing that his campaign was engaged in. And I -- and so the, you know, it's kind of one more on the can you believe this meter that we've been living with for the last, you know, two and a half years.

TAMARA KEITH, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, NPR: So the not comedy part of this is that an organization a person, Donald Trump and the Trump organization reimbursing Michael Cohen for services that he paid for in order to help the president's potential campaign, that is at the very heart of the Southern District of New York's case against Michael Cohen related to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal. These are all of a piece.

KING: Right. That they just --

KEITH: It's related to campaign finance violation.

KING: That they blatantly ignored the rules and the laws.

KEITH: Yes. KING: And just spent their money there in million. To your point, I don't think it'll be just once. I think Michael Cohen is going to have several trips up to Capitol Hill. This a logic comment with the chairman of the oversight committee who's been listening to the President and the President says, "Michael Cohen is a liar. He's also dropped innuendo about the stuff about his in-laws out there to be found." Elijah Cummings says, "Mr. President, stop it."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D), CHAIRMAN OVERSIGHT COMMITEE: When we cannot get information because people feel intimidated, that's a problem, that's a major problem. We just had some concerns with regards to some of the statements that the President made about in-laws of Mr. Cohen and we just wanted to make sure that the President was just reminded of what the law is.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: It tells you two things. Number one, we live in a new Washington. There is one branch of Congress that is saying no and giving other advice or giving other warnings to the President that didn't exist until this month. And number two, they can call witnesses and Mr. Cohen will be just one of them.

JUANA SUMMERS, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, ASSOCIATED PRESS: Absolutely, and I think his testimony will be one of the clearest public indications we have as to what we can expect moving forward in these investigations. And there will likely be many of them but I agree with you and Phil that this will not be Michael Cohen's only trip to the Hill about what can unfold.

[12:35:05] This also comes under current as we know as CNN and the Journal and others have reported that Michael Cohen is very concerned, you know, about the impact of all of this will have on his family and so his. And that's not new information but as his been in report right about that as his opening up and likely to tell Congressional officials more.

KING: All right as we go to break here, up next, the Congressman just announced he's resigning. We'll bring you the details why when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Topping our political radar today, get ready for the next campaign.

Senator Chuck Schumer already laying plans to try to pick up a Republican Senate seat in 2020, Schumer meeting last night with Arizona Congressman Ruben Gallego. Congressional campaigns whereas CNN picks the Congressman Schumer -- picks the Congressman on challenging Senator Martha McSally.

[20:40:13] Schumer according to the source, he's also had similar conversations with astronaut Mark Kelly and with Grant Woods, the Republican turned Democrat who once served on the late Senator John McCain's staff.

Pennsylvania Republican Tom Marino says he's leaving Congress. He announced his resignation a bit earlier today, saying he's going to take a job now in the private sector. Marino has served Congress since 2011. His last day will be next week.

And a top Democrat in the Massachusetts State House is denying allegations of groping a fellow lawmaker. The Boston globe reports Representative Paul McMurtry allegedly grabbed the backside of an incoming legislator and an orientation cocktail hour last month. McMurtry telling the Globe he's innocent and he says he welcomes the investigation.

When we comeback, President Trump's speech at the Pentagon was meant to unveil the country's missile defense strategy. But we learned, let's got some other things on his mind.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:45:17] KING: The President was at the Pentagon last hour. His stated goal for making the trip across the Potomac River, to outline the new U.S. Military defense strategy including a new take on what the administration has come to the conclusion is an urgent need to upgrade United State's missile defense. The president did talk a bit about that, but clearly in his only public statement today so far, he has other things on his mind including the government shutdown, the border stand off and NATO countries and paying their dues.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Without a strong borders America is defenseless, vulnerable and unprotected. I also want to thank the military to helping us out during the big caravan period. But now you have more caravans forming and they're on their way out.

We protect all of these wealthy countries, which I'm very honored to do. But many of them are so wealthy they can easily pay us the cost of this protection. We're going to be with NATO 100 percent, but as I told the countries, you have to step up. You have to pay.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: It is still two years in this week. Fascinating to me to watch him in this settings where you see -- when he's reading the prompter because he's looking from side to side to read the prompter and then you see there where he's just riffing and saying what he wants, talking about what he wants to talk about.

SHEAR: Well, and what's the thread through all those things that he talks about? It's things that have been on TV and things in the media. It's things that have been written about him, right? So "The Times" had a story about NATO and his desire to pull out the NATO. The wall is all over television. The caravans are being, you know, documented on Fox. I mean, this is what drives him. It's not briefings and administration people who try to put him in these settings where they say to him, "This is missile defense, sir. This is, you know, this is what you should talk about." It doesn't work. And it works briefly for depleting moments and then he moves on to what he wants to talk about.

KING: Which is potentially good for him. It's a commander-in-chief moment and to the President's credit, he did pay tribute and voice his condolences for the four Americans tragically killed yesterday in Syria.

At the top of the speech, we didn't hear from him yesterday and that's sad, it's very important than doing at the Pentagon very appropriate. But then it's a commander-in-chief moment. They wanted to talk about what the Pentagon has concluded as an urgent need to upgrade missile defense because of North Korea, because of China, because of Russia.

Other some in the administration argue because of Iran as well. Good for the president and yet he wants to digress from time to time because --

SUMMERS: Perhaps he's the president and he can. Look, this is only, I believe, the third time in his presidency that Trump has gone to the Pentagon and in these comments he really get a sense of this unscripted ones of where his mindset really is. The things that are on his mind, I think Michael is absolutely right that a lot about his filled on TV.

But also camera made this point about Rudy Giuliani earlier, this is a president, he was also making a PR case to the American people while we have a standoff over the wall, over some of his priorities that Democrats who now have control of the House do not agree with. He's making the case that he's ideas are right. He's making it directly that the American people were seeing this on CNN's air now so far.

KING: It's a great point because this is how he works. That's the fight of the moment. Not that missile defense is unimportant, not that it's unimportant to the president, but his instinct there's the fight at the moment is the wall. That's what I'm going to talk about.

KEITH: And I interviewed last week, Sam Nunberg, who was this early campaign adviser. He talked about the idea that the campaign speeches for the Trump variety show and there are things that he would always come back to, things that you could guarantee that he would comeback to.

And, you know, talking about the wall, complaining about the NATO, these are things that he will always come back to. And, you know, last week he was speaking -- or maybe it was earlier this week, he was speaking to the Farm Bureau Organization. He talked about the wall extensively. I'm pretty sure he had a script that was mostly about agricultural-related issues.

KING: It is, so he as one of the things people on Capitol Hill and people around the country are waiting his -- will the President, what more will he say about Syria policy? Not just about the tragedy that happened, but the tragedy happened couple of weeks after he said, "First I want to get troops out immediately." Then he said, "No I'm not going to rush this."

Senator (ph) Rand Paul who has the president ear on foreign policy. So Senator Rand Paul is a bring American boots home yesterday kind of guy. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. RAND PAUL (R), FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: He wants to be different than most presidents who say, we're going to go to war but we're never going to win, we're never going to come home.

To those who say and Lindsey Graham frankly is just wrong on this. But to those who say we leave then reorganize, they've been killing each other for a thousand years over there. We've killed 99 percent of ISIS, is there random over there? Yes, can they not kill one percent. Can they not do their job?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: This is an interesting debate at the moment and one of the questions is about what happened yesterday, you know, the generals will say, "Mr. President this is proof we need a little more time." Others will say, to Rand Paul's point, they've been fighting each other forever and they have troops have been there for years. Not our job anymore.

[12:50:03] MATTINGLY: I actually think this is the most fascinating debate in Washington right now the tug of war behind the scenes at the White House, Rand Paul wasn't the only one over there. Senator Marco Rubio was over there, Senator Joni Ernst was over there. People are probably hawkish in their perspective particularly on Syria's on Senator Ernst served once and I think continues to still serve in the military.

And who is going to win this fight of where the president is instinctually and has been for a long period of time and talked about it on the campaign extricating U.S. forces from conflicts overseas versus not just where Republican Senators are and traditional Republican ideology is on this issue. But also a lot of the President's top advisers are on this issue.

And the tug of war, the battle back and forth, the lobbying House senators use television, House senators use the phone, House senators use in-person meetings to try and get their way on this issue. You talked about the tragic destiny attacked yesterday in Syria, both sides are using that as an example as to why their perspective should win.

And so how this ends up or whether there is some kind of muddled middle ground here is going to be really interesting to keep an eye on because this is something Republicans in the Senate care more about than just about anything right now and we're keeping a vertical side.

KING: The worst thing would be a muddled middle ground, some on this make a decision and the standby and see right or wrong, I guess.

Up next for us here, Beto O'Rourke, is on the road again, outside of Texas, thinking about 2020.

But before we go to break, the man who beat Beto in his Senate race, that would be Senator Ted Cruz, he's grown a beard. Wants to help you, learn how.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): This is a razor.

TED CRUZ (R), TEXAS: Stop using it.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:56:15] KING: Beto O'Rourke is on the road looking for the big answer. The former Texas Congressman and progressive darling currently on a solo road trip and if he has an itinerary, his aides are not revealing it. Of course, weighing heavy on his mind, whether or not to run for president? Is a decision that one of his closest friends tells our Jeff Zeleny is anyone's guess.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEVE ORTEGA, FRIEND OF BETO O'ROURKE: If anyone would know, I would be one of the first ones to know and I legitimately think he could go one way or the other. And he could call me tomorrow and say, "I'm not doing this". And I'll be relatively surprised. And he call me tomorrow and say, "I'm not doing this" And I would be relatively surprised.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: And a callback to his Senate run, O'Rourke is documenting his travels by a live Instagrams and journaling. And it get quite candid as he did from Kansas yesterday admitting adjusting for life out of public office has been toughed, "I've been stuck lately, in and out of a funk. It's been more than 20 years since I was last not working. "He went on to say, "Maybe if I get moving on the road, meet people. Learn about what's going on. Where they live, have some adventure. Go where I don't know and I'm not known. It will clear my head. Reset. I'll think new thoughts, break out of the loops I've been stuck in."

All right therapy with Beto time.

SHEAR: He needs reset button like Hillary had for Russia, just the reset.

KING: I'm sure progressive, Well, I'll just look at it. Yes, you know, when I'm stand on that way.

KEITH: It's just a guitar.

KING: Look, it's a fascinating question because for all the people will say, we'll just loss the Senate right. So he's no way he can be the Democratic nominee for president. Sorry.

You know, then Senator Obama, vaulted the establishment. Donald Trump, took over a party. He'd been a Democratic independent. He is a progressive darling and particularly raise money.

Is this the way to make your decision, go on a road trip? First, we went to the dentist with him, now we're going through Kansas with him. What's next?

SUMMERS: I have to say this is frankly more candid than we've gotten from as he put it. I think the dozen of other Democrats who are considering running for president. I think the thing that makes with Beto O'Rourke is doing a little different is that if he decide to get into this race, he does have kind of a campaign and waiting with all these folks who want to drop him off in the race, who are already building an organization. They've even managed to get some top flight talent in some of these earlier primary states.

Now, that said, I don't think anybody knows what the heck he's going to do including just down the reports possibly even some of his closest friends.

KING: What is the burden? Again, Donald Trump has defied the polls, defied convention. He was a Democrat, turned independent, turned Republican, changed his mind on a number of issues.

What is the bar for Democrats in the sense that Beto O'Rourke represented a district just outside of El Paso right down by the border? Asked this question by Janet Johnson of the Washington post. So, what would be done to address visa overstays?

"I don't know", O'Rourke said, pausing in a lengthy interview. When it comes to many of the biggest policy debates facing the country today, O'Rourke's default stance is to call for a debate. "I don't know, about the border?" It's his district.

MATTINGLY: Yes, those are seemed to be important things to have a pretty solid position on. But I also think that to some degree having no solid position to get pinned down on and hammered on maybe isn't the worst thing in the world. Yes, he's going to have to figure out the answers to those questions if he's going to run for president.

But I also think, you can and certainly view as you mentioned with President Obama or with President Trump. There's no necessarily clear model or clear box is to how people declare for run, decide to run and win at this point in time. And so it's tough to say, well he's not doing the right thing now or this is necessarily the right way to go about it. Who knows what can be the most effective way in 2020?

KING: And he's getting tons of attention about it. Though his point is included so you can't say --

SHEAR: And he all said like Trump proved that you can go take the -- or go a long way by flouting the sort of, you know, political, you know, sort of overly political thing that a lot of these other candidates are, you know, checking off all the right political boxes. He's sort of not doing that and maybe that'll come across as refreshing.

SUMMERS: Yes.

KING: Maybe. Maybe as he travels. He's gone from Kansas. Maybe he's going to go to Kansas City to root not the team on your necklace, not for the team on your (INAUDIBLE). It's a root for the good guys in New England.

Thanks for joining us in INSIDE POLITICS. Have a great day. Brianna Keilar starts right now.