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Mueller's Office Disputes BuzzFeed Report that Trump Directed Michael Cohen to Lie to Congress; Kennedy Expresses Confidence Trump Will Negotiate with Dems; Shutdown Talks Stalled as Government Closure Nears 2nd Month. Aired 9-10p ET

Aired January 18, 2019 - 21:00   ET


CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR, "CUOMO PRIME TIME": Thank you, Anderson. I am Chris Cuomo and welcome to Prime Time.

We have breaking news, Robert Mueller's team breaking it's silence about the report that ricocheted around Washington in the last 24 hours and they have a different story.

We'll going to bring in a team of people that have reported on and worked these type of cases to tell us where things stand in terms of what we know and where we go.

Then we'll go one-on-one with the GOP senator on the Judiciary Committee about the shutdown. He spent an hour with the President about what it will take to get people paid and I think the President just let us know where he stands when it comes to whether he rejects Steve King's message of bigotry. It is a wild week, once again, and it ain't over. So let's get after it.

We don't hear from the Mueller probe, this is rare but they put out a statement just a moment ago about what they hear in this BuzzFeed report, and they knock it down in part.

Now BuzzFeed reported that Michael Cohen, the President's former lawyer told the special counsel that President Trump directed him to lie to Congress about a massive business deal he was seeking with Moscow. They cited two law enforcement sources investigating the matter. They didn't say that they work for the special counsel but they say they have corroborating evidence but then just a short while ago, Mueller's team, and this is a very uncharacteristic for them, they put out a statement that says this, "BuzzFeed's description of specific statements to the special counsel's office and characterization of documents and testimony obtained by this office regarding Michael Cohen's congressional testimony are not accurate."

BuzzFeed is not backing down. Here is the statement from Editor-in- Chief of BuzzFeed, Ben Smith, in responds to the statement tonight from the special counsel's spokesman, "We stand by our reporting and the sources who informed it and we urge the special counsel to make clear what he is disputing."

All right. Let's bring in some people reported on this kinds of stories, we've worked for the DOJ, we have Asha Rangappa and Garrett Graff. It's good to have you both, all right? Now, let's deal with where we think things stand.

Asha, BuzzFeed says one thing. The Mueller people change in terms of what they believe is true about what they know. Does that end the BuzzFeed reporting for you?

ASHA RANGAPPA, CNN LEGAL & NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, for me, I take it as now we are back to exactly where we were at the point where Cohen pleaded guilty to lying to Congress and we should let the facts come out as they may. I do think the special counsel taking this extraordinary step to actually comment on it reflects a couple of things. I think that this particular allegation is so explosive and has so many potential consequences that they felt it was important to make clear what was or was not accurate about or at least what was not accurate about that story. But also look, it's been almost two years. We have not heard boo from the special counsel's office.

CUOMO: True.

RANGAPPA: There's been no leaks, he has been on lockdown. So I don't think where ever these sources are coming from, I would be, look I'm 99.9% sure they're not coming from Mueller's team.

CUOMO: Well, look, it's interesting you say that because let's look at the language from BuzzFeed, Garrett. This is -- I want to you to weigh in on this. Their language is two federal law enforcement officials involved in an investigation of a matter. If you had Mueller guys, you might say it. You might not because they might want the protection, right? Especially in light of what we just saw from Rudy Giuliani, one of the President's lawyer putting it, the DOJ must bring these sources forward. All right, so people like us want protection, it's not unusual for them to want to be anonymous and couch in this regard and it's this law enforcement officials telling BuzzFeed what the special counsel knows.

Now to you, does that mean they must work for the special counsel? Or does it mean that both could be true? They work for some other entity, other body, and the special counsel is modifying the reporting and not cancelling it out all together?

GARRETT GRAFF, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Chris, I think you're right to zero in on that particular phrase and then I think the larger point is to look at the context of the investigative details that this story purports to break. And what I mean by that is this entire report deals with the Trump organization end of this investigation which is not actually being run by the special counsel's office.

CUOMO: True.

RANGAPPA: That's right.

GRAFF: You know, we short jammed all of this as the Mueller probe.

CUOMO: Right.

GRAFF: But it is, in fact, and I counted this up, it is 17 different investigations being run by seven different prosecutors offices and the Trump organization is being investigated by the Southern District of New York.

[21:05:11] CUOMO: Right.

GRAFF: The federal prosecutors in Manhattan. And so that was who raided Michael Cohen's office. That is who is dealing with some of these campaign finance violations that the Trump organization has been involved in. And that's who Allen Weisselberg, the chief financial officer for the Trump organization negotiated his immunity deal with last summer.

And, you know, I'm generally pretty renascent to try to play a public guessing game about other reporters sources.

CUOMO: Right.

GRAFF: But given the importance of the story I think it is worth pointing the finger away from the special counsel's office because as, Asha says this has been an operation that's been leak free for two years, and I have a hard time believing that this sort of one random story is the first time that we have seen a leak out at the special counsel's office where as New York is actually notoriously leaky operation.

CUOMO: Right.

GRAFF: Remember, it was the leaks out of that New York FBI office that drove Jim Comey's decision in the week prior to the November 2016 election to make that extraordinary comment about reopening Hillary Clinton's e-mail investigation --

CUOMO: Good point.

GRAFF: --given Anthony Weiner's laptop.

CUOMO: Right.

GRAFF: So, you know, all of this is just sort of circles upon circles and circles --

CUOMO: Right, but I'll tell you what I think there is a line through it and, Asha, you referred to it in your answer. Let's put up why this made sense to people when it came out anyway. And it's not about damning the President, it's about the context of what we thought we were going to find out surrounding Cohen's testimony.

And remember, he's about to testify again. And I don't know if this matter will be closed off because it's too close to what Mueller is doing. Although, by what we're saying right now and what the sourcing is for BuzzFeed, doesn't seem like it might be under his umbrella. Maybe he will be allowed to discuss it. We'll see in a few weeks. But put up the language, Mel, of what was in Mueller's pleading that came out the same day as the southern district's pleading about Cohen.

Cohen provided relevant and useful information concerning his contacts with persons connected to the White House during the 2017-2018 time period. Cohen described the circumstances of preparing and circulating his response to the congressional inquiries while continuing to accept responsibility for the false statements contained with it.

So, we all remembered that. Oh he was talking to people. He was talking to people involved in the White House. I wonder who. Then you have to look at that in the context of what his lawyers said in response to that. Put that up, please.

OK. In the weeks during which this, his then council prepared his written response to the congressional committees, Michael remained in close and regular contact with White House based staff and legal counsel to Client 1. So here's where my head is on this with the reporting I've been able to do recently, Asha. What could be the big distinction here and would totally justify what the Mueller probe came out with but not vacate everything BuzzFeed said is Trump directed Michael Cohen, don't put that on us. Don't put that on us, but Michael Cohen worked with people around Trump in preparing his testimony and once again we're faced with what did the President know and not know? That could very well be true and it squares with what was in the Mueller pleading, what was in his own, Michael Cohen's own pleading. Does that make sense? Asha?

RANGAPPA: I think so. I mean, you know, I think look, I was on set the day that he pleaded guilty and with several prosecutors and that was the language that many of us honed in on.

CUOMO: Right.

RANGAPPA: What does this mean? And, you know, it's not in there for no reason at all. But, you know, I think that again we do need to remember that -- two things, you know, this allegation, we talked all day about the seriousness of it and I am guessing that also the special counsel's office may have been getting pressure from members of Congress saying if this is something that you had, you better let us know right now.

CUOMO: But that's not a first. And that would be about communicating to them.

RANGAPPA: Yes, but, you know --

CUOMO: It's not putting out a public statement.

RANGAPPA: But this does, you know, that allegation directly goes to Congress' function.

CUOMO: True.

RANGAPPA: And so, you know, that's an enormous pressure to be there. I think also that, you know, to the extent that anything of this nature is being collected by the special counsel's office, it really is in everyone's interest on any side, on both sides to see it in black and white, the way that we have seen his indictments, the official filings.

[21:10:12] CUOMO: Sure. RANGGAPA: Which we know by virtue of them being laid out that they are in fact backed up by evidence.

CUOMO: Well, it has to be part of the report.

RANGGAPA: You know, I think --

CUOMO: It has to be part of the report because Mueller referred to it, Garret. But I mean, if we put up Mueller's response. And I get that it's a bunch of lawyers, I get that they're careful about everything. But they didn't need to be this careful about this statement. They could have just come out and said BuzzFeed's reporting is wrong. We're not pursuing anything like this. We haven't done anything like this. They could have just said that, and it would be all over, but they didn't. And I am not one who is looking, you know, for a needle in a hay tack on this.

BuzzFeed said it's going to follow up its reporting, it stands by its reporting. We'll see what happens. BuzzFeed put that back up, that statement, because you want to parse the actual language. Description of specific statements to the special counsel's office, the characterization of documents and testimony obtained by this office are not accurate. You know, it is a lawyerly explanation of the situation or am I a lawyer who's just looking at it that way, Garret?

GRAFF: Well -- no, I think you're absolutely right. The special counsel's office knows how to deny a story, and this is not a denial. And I think in some way -- some --

CUOMO: Well they say it's not accurate. But I'm just saying they could have waved it away in a single line if they wanted to.

GRAFF: Exactly. And I think one of the things that we might be seeing here is the special counsel operating in a new political environment as well. That, you know, this was one of the first huge bombshells that we have seen come out in public reporting under a Democratic Houses. And this might be sort of a simple statement of the special counsel's office saying, hey, guys, we're not going to impeach the President this weekend. So let's all take a deep breath and let's keep waiting and we'll get to this when we're ready to talk about it.

CUOMO: And you know what, that's always been the best advice. You know, when things happen, I bring you somebody or Asha, or both of you on this case. What could it mean? Where could it lead us? What could happen next? That's all fair. But the pace of the curiosity matters as well. And as you started this segment, Asha, we are back where we were when we got that Mueller pleading. It seems that Cohen didn't go it alone, but who does that mean and what does that mean? And does it mean anything for the President? We still don't know until we learn more.

Asha, Garrett, thank you very much. Needed you tonight, you came through and I appreciate it.

So, this week has been a huge week. You have Rudy Giuliani on the show kind of changing the metric of how the President precedes a probe. You have this BuzzFeed thing and now the Mueller response, but we learned other things as well. So what are the big developments? What are the big questions? I've narrowed it down to five and I'll give it to you next.


[21:16:44] CUOMO: All right the story about BuzzFeed and the reporting and the question of whether anyone helped Michael Cohen lie to Congress, it matters. It matters a lot. But there are other Russia related issues that have come into focus this week. So, we'll start with Michael Cohen and the BuzzFeed thing. We'll see -- we'll see how they reconcile what they said. There's a lot of space between what the Mueller responds was and with BuzzFeed said happened.

And we're going to find out one way or the other, because he's going to testify in a few weeks. And even if we don't find out then, remember this kind of grew out of, in terms of its legitimacy what Mueller put in his own pleadings. So they've been tracking this issue of who helped him if anyone lie to Congress, we're going to find out.

But remember, also with Michael Cohen, the fact that he paid for polls to be rigged for Donald Trump at Donald Trump's direction once again, that was their relationship. He did dirty deeds. Sometime, dirt cheap (ph), sometime not, this time they believe he pocketed some cash, but that's another issue.

All right now, what else? When we start looking around, you have Rudy Giuliani, there's a new spin. We now know that the President strategy is just to protect himself. The campaign, I don't know about that. All I know is that the President himself did nothing wrong. But what did he know about? And is that something that will hold? That was a big development this week. Relaxing sanctions on Russia, that's going on right now. You're going to hear on this show from a Republican that voted against it because he doesn't understand the need for it.

Why when they're looking at you to see if you're too cozy with Russia would you try to relax sanctions on one of the oligarchs that they're looking at in the probe. Why? That's big. We have to figure it out. Parroting Putin talking points. We now know that in July, after speaking with the Russian President, our President made his defense against interference into his own official administration statement. He said it to at least two media outlets. The second time he left out the part that Putin told him. And then Anthony Scaramucci said it as an official talking point of the administration. That happened. Why would he do that? Putting Putin over his own intel agencies.

The interpreters notes. Why would he hide the notes of an interpreter after a meeting with Putin? Well, maybe he doesn't want everybody to know what he says with world leaders. Then why only this world leader? Why don't we hear if they say well you only heard about this because of the White House leaks? Well if it leaks all the time, why have we only heard about him doing it with Putin?

These questions only lead to the same vexing issue. Why does the President keep taking special steps to be differential and protective of the President and the country if he has nothing to hide? All right, so that's what we learned this week. This is in the mix.

I want to go back though to this stunning push back tonight from the special counsel's office, they don't talk. So they came out to say, hey the BuzzFeed thing, mischaracterization. Not accurate about what happened with us. So is that the end of it? You're about to talk to a very seasoned prosecutor that who says, no.


[21:23:03] CUOMO: It's taken nearly 24 hours for the Special Counsel's Office has just put out a statement disputing the explosive story from BuzzFeed News, they call it not accurate BuzzFeed News report. They say that it's mischaracterizing documents and statements made to them. However, BuzzFeed's editor-in-chief, Ben Smith, pushing back to their pushback. Standing by the reporting and their sources and asking for the Special Counsel to clarify what it is they dispute.

So what do we take away from the back and forth? Here's a side note. You know, there've been a lot of stories about what's going on with the probe and what the President may have known. They've never come forward until now. I wonder if that means that they had no problem with any of those other reports.

Let's bring somebody in who says this is not the end. OK, former acting solicitor general Neal Katyal. It's good to have you here. Let's leave whether it means that they like the other reporting or not to the side, do you believe this is the end of this issue?

NEAL KATYAL, FORMER ACTING SOLICITOR GENERAL UNDER PRESIDENT OBAMA: No, not at all. Look, I think -- you know, there is -- the statement itself is pretty ambiguous. It's hard to really know exactly what to make of it. It could be that they're disputing everything like if they don't have sufficient evidence to go after Trump for ordering Cohen to lie to Congress. Or it could be that Mueller is defending the institution of his office and saying, look, we run a tight ship, there are no leaks in our office and that statement twice mentions his office and the information provided to his office. So we don't know.

But here are two things we do know, Chris. Number one, we know that after the story came out, President Trump went and threatened Michael Cohen by saying, oh, look, go after his father or father-in-law or something like that this morning which is itself potentially a crime. And number two, this allegation about ordering Cohen to lie before Congress is only one of a litany of things in which Trump and everyone in Trump world happens to lie when it comes to Russia. So whether or not this specific thing is there or not, there is a bigger tapestry here which is incredibly damaging to the president and underscores the need for Congress to be involved.

[21:25:14] CUOMO: Here's what I find -- I'm curious about it, and we pieced it together with little bits of proof. The reason that the BuzzFeed article, other than the headline, is so enticing to journalists covering the story is it seemed to be an extension of what we learned from Mueller himself in his most recent pleading about Michael Cohen --


CUOMO: -- the same day the Southern District put out their filing on Cohen. And if we have the language available put it up otherwise, I'll characterize it. Mueller had said, look, Cohen has come forward about who he was talking to while he was getting ready for his congressional testimony. And that it was -- this is from the Special Counsel's Office, December 7th. Cohen himself has now admitted with respect to both payments, he acted in coordination and at the direction of individual one.

OK, that's about the payments to the women. All right. Now, The Southern District went out of its way to say he was directed by individual one. They don't say the president, but they did that. Mueller didn't do that when he talked about his congressional testimony and how he came up with the decision to lie and who might have helped him. But he did say he was talking to people, there was coordination with people in the White House, he was in touch.

Michael Cohen's own pleading said he kept in touch with the White House. He was talking to those people. Neither mentioned the president specifically. And they could have the same way the Southern District did. And it makes me wonder, is this about me versus we? Is this about the president directing it, which is what BuzzFeed says, or something more generalized? That Cohen was working with guys around Trump and it leaves us with this familiar question of, did the president know what was happening? Was he part of it? Did he know?

KATYAL: Yes, no, that's an excellent point and, you know, I think that there's a lot to it. We just don't know from what we've gotten so far, everyone is a little impatient. They were impatient last night, they all want to read certain things into it and that's why, you know, I had the privilege of being on with Don Lemon last night and I think everyone on there was like, if this is true --

CUOMO: Right.

KATYAL: -- then X follows, but nobody would say this is actually where things are. And it could very well be that the folks around him directed Michael Cohen to do stuff and these folks around him were all Trump people but not Trump himself.

CUOMO: Right.

KATYAL: On the other hand, Trump does have a pretty strong disrespect for the law and, you know, it's certainly plausible that the reverse is true. This is all why we need an investigation and if Donald Trump is truly innocent, as he said, he's the one who should be -- he should be clamoring for an investigation, not calling it a witch hunt. He should be saying bring it on, I have nothing to hide.

CUOMO: Well, but it is to investigate.

KATYAL: But instead he doesn't talk to Mueller, doesn't talk to Congress, yes, exactly, but he's always -- he's trying to shut it down. He's trying to say it's a witch hunt. His lawyers have said they might even exert executive privilege. He doesn't sit down with Mueller and answer his questions. You know, this does not look like the behavior of an innocent person and indeed if any government officer acted this way, I think they'd lose their job.

CUOMO: Although I have to tell you, Mueller didn't do the media any favors tonight and he did do the president one. Because as you saw with Rudy Giuliani and as I'm sure you'll see with the President himself, this allows them to say, you can't believe it. You can't believe what you read, you can't believe what you hear, you can only believe us. Even the Special Counsel says that the media doesn't get it right.

KATYAL: Yes, but on the other hand, you know, folks like us have been saying Mueller is a very respected prosecutor --


KATYAL: -- by the book's prosecutor, a former Republican for all sakes, and Trump always accused him of being biased and saying the 13 or 19 angry --

CUOMO: Not tonight, he won't.

KATYAL: -- Democrats or whatever working for Mueller. And so, no way. And so that -- you know, so, you know, yes, we can talk about the bloomering on the media. But also there's someone else who demonstrated, I think, once again his bonafides and that's Robert Mueller.

CUOMO: Right. And look, you know, the president -- you know, again, this is a nice distraction from what else we learned this week. Obviously, if the BuzzFeed thing had been -- if we had been able to match the reporting or anybody else had, that's a credible organization, this would have been a very big deal.

Instead it leaves us back where we were when Mueller put out that pleading that creates the suggestion that Cohen may have been in contact and coordinating with others while preparing his congressional testimony, who, what does that mean for the president, we still don't know for sure. But we will learn a lot else this week. We had Rudy Giuliani completely change the perspective on what their defense plan is, which is everybody else gets thrown under the bus except for the president. We'd learned about, you know, the lengths that this president has gone to protect his conversations with Vladimir Putin that he adapted Vladimir Putin's rationale for why they didn't interfere in Russia and made it his own administration position.

I mean, these are still -- they all go to feed the fire of why does the president behave this way towards this man.

[21:30:05] KATYAL: And that is so important and remember, the one other story that came out in "New York Times" a week ago tonight reporting that our sitting president has been under active investigation by the FBI for being a Russian asset and you take all of these things together, Chris, and this is why just two hours ago I had the privilege of writing an op-ed with General Michael Hayden, President Bush's former CIA director and national security agency director --

CUOMO: And a big part of the CNN family.

KAYTAL: All of this -- exactly. And a lovely contributor to your network. And this is -- and we said you take all of this together and it really underscores the need for a serious congressional investigation using impeachment. Not prejudging the outcome and saying anyone should be impeached, but everyone in this country needs to know the answers to these problems. Some are within Mueller's jurisdiction because they're criminal but others are not. And it is squarely Congress' constitutional obligation.

CUOMO: Why not wait until the Mueller report comes out? See what's in there and see what else you need to do?

KATYAL: Well, it certainly -- you know, first of all, we don't know how long that could be. I mean, you know, it could be next month.

CUOMO: What's the rush?

KATYAL: But Mueller is famous for not leaking. So, the rush is right now we have allegations that the President is engaged in, has been engaged in serious wrong doing and as long as the questions can be asked by Congress in a way that doesn't interfere with the Mueller investigation, I think like an episode like tonight really demonstrates why Congress should be involved. After all, the BuzzFeed story is about lying to Congress. Who cares about that more than anyone? Congress.

CUOMO: Congress.

KATYAL: And so they're the ones that should be -- yes, absolutely, and Congress's -- it's perfectly appropriate and indeed part of their constitutional duties to investigate this. Obviously, they do so in a way respectful to law enforcement interests to Mueller and the like, but it should and needs to be done.

CUOMO: You know, I guess my push back on it, Neal, is impeachment, removal, political processes. I know they have a lot of legal dressing around them. But I don't have to tell you. They're not legal processes. They're political. And if you don't have the American people pushing on politicians in a form of a consensus, politicians work out of fear of consequence more than they do out of good conscience.

KAYTAL: Right.

CUOMO: And I think you won't even be close to that until you get past the Mueller probe and what he says and how people feel about it.

KATYAL: Well, I think that actually cuts the other way. It's pretty -- you know, look, you know, General Hayden and I are reluctant impeachment investigators. We generally don't think it's right. We don't want to criminalize politics. We think in general our founders left the system in which, you know, presidential politics should run unfettered. But when you have allegations like this, our point is they should be investigated, Chris. You might not convict at the end of the day. And that's actually a feature of our system, not a bug --

CUOMO: True.

KAYTAL: -- that it takes a two-thirds vote in the Senate to convict.

CUOMO: True. True, fair point. You know, Neal, thank you very much for being on tonight on a Friday night. How many times --

KATYAL: Thank you.

CUOMO: -- if have I had you on planning to talk about one thing and we had to wind up talking about something completely different because of the news.

KATYAL: Welcome to the era of Trump.

CUOMO: Thank you for the flexibility. Have a great weekend.

All right. This is a big story, Mueller, but it ain't the only one. 800,000 federal workers are still not being paid. If you lose sight of it we really are losing sight to those individuals. And it's time for those who can solve this to find a way and we know whom to blame. We know the President owns this shutdown. We know that Mitch McConnell has frozen the Senate and now he's saying there's a major announcement to make. That's a distraction.

I have Senator John Kennedy on. What is he think should be done to free up the Senate and have these guys do their job, next.


[21:36:23] CUOMO: The Mueller developments matter but so to the people who aren't get paid. Nearly a month into the shutdown, the deal maker-in-chief still has no deal but what he does apparently have is "major announcement," that he tweeted concerning what POTUS called, "the humanitarian crisis on our southern border and the shutdown, it set for tomorrow afternoon." You know what I call that? A distraction. I don't know what he has. But if it was so important why you would treat it as a tease to a reality show. If he wants to treat it that way so will I. Let's focus on what matters and what we know about which is calling out those that are keeping this government shutdown.

Republican Senator John Kennedy of Louisiana is back on Prime Time, and we welcome him.

Senator, thank you for joining us.

SEN. JOHN KENNEDY (R), LOUISIANA: Thank you, Chris. Thanks for having me, man.

CUOMO: When it comes to the shutdown, I believe a big heap of blame belong squarely on the head of the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell. He seems to have decided his oath that he took was to the President and not to the people. Why don't you, your Republican colleagues, go to him and say let us do our job. There are bills that we should be voting on. That's why we're here. Let us do our job.

KENNEDY: Well, two points. Number one, we're all to blame for this. Every single one of us in Washington responsible for making sure that the government the operates. Number two, let me tell you why I don't think it's McConnell's fault. If we pass a bill and the President vetoes it, what have we accomplished? All we have done is giving people false hope. And there's no way and whether you agree or disagree with him, I don't think Mitch is going to budge on this, he is not going to put a bill on the floor that the President is not going to sign.

CUOMO: Do you know for a fact that you couldn't get two-thirds?

KENNEDY: No, I don't know.

CUOMO: So that's why should go and vote on it.

KENNEDY: But I would doubt we could get two-third. No, I would doubt that we could get two-thirds.

CUOMO: You don't want to reopen the government?

KENNEDY: I do want to reopen the government, but anyway you look at this from any perspective because of the circumstances we find ourselves in that right now there are only two people's opinions who matter, Donald Trump and Nancy Pelosi. And many of my -- I hitched a ride back with the President on his plane from New Orleans to D.C. on Monday. I visited with him about an hour on this issue. He didn't have an ugly thing to say, a bad thing to say about Speaker Pelosi. He honestly believes he's doing the right thing. He is not going -- for better or worse, and I happen to agree with him, he does not believe you can secure a 1,900 mile border without having in part, some barriers.

And on this issue, he is strong as bear's breath. He is resolute. Now, he's willing to negotiate. He told me that point blank. And here's honestly what I believe. If the President -- the President and the Speaker are pretty close to this thing right now, if each of them would appoint somebody in whom they have great confidence and tell them to go off for two or three days, meet, forget about all the politics and bring me back a plan to help secure this border. You know what I think that plan would say, I think it would say we need to enhance security in our ports of entry.

CUOMO: Yes, yes.

KENNEDY: We need more border agents, we need more judges and we need in part a barrier.

CUOMO: Senator, that's what it always said. That's what it always said. They gave him 25 billion over five years. The Democrats always funded physical barriers as part of this. You guys, I mean, you aren't there but they were doing it in the Obama Administration. That's where the bollard fencing comes out.

[21:40:02] So, they've always funded. Right now --

KENNEDY: You're making my point, Chris.

CUOMO: -- you're offering him the money that he put in the budget for it. The one, whatever, billion is where he putting the budget for it.

KENNEDY: No. You're making that point here. Mrs. Pelosi, Chuck has, for whatever reason, decided to let the speaker run the show. And I saw it. I saw it on CNN where the --it was reported and the speaker said it was true. The President said "if I open back government and we negotiate, will you consider a wall?" She said "no." Not one dollar.

CUOMO: But she's offered over a billion. But she's offered over a billion which is what he asked for in the budget. They offered him 25 billion and he walked away from the deal.

KENNEDY: Not to be use for a wall, Chris.

CUOMO: Part of it --

KENNEDY: She is, I'm telling you.

CU9OMO: -- is for the wall.

KENNEDY: She is adamant.

CUOMO: This is about proportionality.


CUOMO: No Democrats say, no money for physical barriers. It's all about how much and where and what percentage of the budget is.

KENNEDY: Speaker Pelosi does.

CUOMO: She said that one time --

KENNEDY: Well, look, --

CUOMO: -- in response to a question, but they have 1.3 billion on the table --

KENNEDY: Yes, but --

CUOMO: -- that includes physical barriers. You know this, Senator.

KENNEDY: She is not going to agree to 1.3 billion. I think if the President today went to her and said here's the deal, I want 1.3 billion and I agree with you to do something on our ports of entry. We need immigration judges, we need border agents, we need drones, we need technology, and we need $1.3 billion for a border wall to add to the 600 that are already working. She's not going to accept that, Chris. She said it. And now, if she will accept it, she needs to say so because it would really further these negotiations.

CUOMO: Except he's asking for 5 billion --

KENNEDY: I don't speak for the President but I'm telling he -- well, I'm telling you, the President will negotiate on this. He does not have --

CUOMO: You think he'll pay 1.3?

KENNEDY: He needs a single solitary. No, I'm not saying that. I'm saying that he will negotiate. Now, here's what I think most Americans think, Chris, and I bet you do too, legal immigration makes this country stronger. Illegal immigration undermines legal immigration. Illegal immigration is illegal and a border barrier can help stem the tide of illegal immigration.

CUOMO: It will help. But it's not a panacea --

KENNEDY: I think that's most Americans believed.

CUOMO: We're not wall away and everything that he defines --

KENNEDY: No, of course not.

CUOMO: -- in an exaggerated crisis is not fixed by a wall. You want to stop illegal drugs, give them the x-rays and the infrastructure at the ports of entry. That's what DHS has said.

KENNEDY: Absolutely. I agree with that.

CUOMO: It's where they get wall (ph). You want to stop illegal foot traffic or illegal entry into the country, attack the airports because that's what it comes. Do you want to go after terrorism? Go to the airports. That's where they come. A wall is not a panacea for any of those. He's made it a metaphor.

KENNEDY: No, no.

CUOMO: That's what he finds more.

KENNEDY: I don't say that.

CUOMO: But the wall is away to keep out --

KENNEDY: And I don't say that.

CUOMO: -- what I define as brown menace. But he does. That's why he shutdown the government. Because for him, it's all in on this idea of who wins. Me, who wants to keep everybody out and say that they're bad for wanting to come in or you people that want to do otherwise. And I just don't think it's fair to put this on people's backs and he did that.

KENNEDY: I see your point of view. It's a valid point of view. He is asking for money for an additional 234 miles of walls, barriers. You can call him whangdoodle, for all I care. I don't know. But it's a barrier.

But in addition to that, he has asked for additional border agents, more detention beds --

CUOMO: Right.

KENNEDY: -- money for -- to help the humanitarian cause. He's asked for more immigration judges. He is never asked for 1,900 miles wall from sea to shining sea.

CUOMO: Well, he started with that and he said Mexico would pay for it.

KENNEDY: If I'm wrong, I'll come back and say I'm wrong. But my understanding of Mrs. Pelosi's position is not one penny for one inch of a wall. I think if Mrs. Pelosi stepped up to the plate and said I will talk about a wall, we could wrap this up in a matter of days.

CUOMO: All right. Well, that's all it takes. It should be done tomorrow because they've been offering money for this physical barrier for several different iterations of a deal. But we'll see what happens and hopefully it happen soon because people are paying a price they should have never had to pay. Senator Kennedy, thank you for talking to me about these pressing matters.

KENNEDY: Thanks, Chris.

CUOMO: All right. There's another story emerging around us today. It's easy to get lost in the big crisis at the moment but do you remember when the President claimed he saw thousands of Arabs cheering nearby after the World Trade Center fell on 9/11? Remember that? Those were the early stages of the brown menace as I call it. This is xenophobia that the President seems so anxious to sell you on.

Well, now there's a new chapter in this book of B.S., the danger of prayer is the new hype, next.


[21:48:30] CUOMO: The brown menace, the brown menace. That's what I call it when the President tries to drum up xenophobia about the people who want to come to this country, especially from the south. Well, this time, it was about tweeting out a quote from a conservative Washington Examiner. "Some unnamed border rancher claims she found prayer rugs along the southern border." I say so what. Well, the POTUS seems to see an opportunity to stoke fear of Muslims.

First of all, the reporting is odd here. It is very short on proof of whatever they're trying to prove but more importantly, it's very long on xenophobia and bigotry.

Let's bring in D. Lemon. The reporting is one thing, what rugs? Show us the rugs. Where did they come? But then it's almost like dignifying an insult because the whole point of this is to stoke fear, is it not? DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Yes. You're absolutely right. And listen, on of all evenings, right, facts first. We always say facts do matter, right? So can I just read something for you?

CUOMO: Please.

LEMON: So here's the anonymous quote. It says there are a lot of people coming in not just from Mexico, the rancher said. People, the generic public just don't get terrorist threats of -- don't get the terrorist threats of that. That's what's really scary. You don't know what's coming across. So they're saying that because there's a -- we found prayer rugs out there.

CUOMO: What they found was prayer rugs.


CUOMO: Right.

LEMON: So what? Let's just --

CUOMO: Let's say they were. Fine.

LEMON: And so what?

CUOMO: Right.

LEMON: Aren't we a country that cares about religious freedom and that respects other people's religious beliefs?

[21:50:04] Just because someone has a prayer rug it doesn't mean that they're a terrorist. Can they not make that connection? They don't understand that.

The other thing, just so we know the truth, an administration official has told CNN that more non-U.S. citizens on terror watch lists were encountered on the northern than the southern border, and they tried to enter the country through legal ports of entry. Those are the facts. Stop being xenophobic about people who are Muslim or people who are different than you. Even if you did find a prayer rug, who knows what it is? By the way, people use rugs to jump over those walls by the way. Did you know that?

CUOMO: Right.

LEMON: Stop doing that.

CUOMO: But even if you assume all the ugliness --


CUOMO: -- Muslims are not terrorists by definition.

LEMON: Exactly.

CUOMO: There are a billion Muslims, OK? LEMON: Right.

CUOMO: And you know why they don't focus on the northern border part. It doesn't fit into the brown menace.


CUOMO: It doesn't fit into the brown menace.

LEMON: And you know what I used to say when people would say, oh, maybe Barack Obama is a Muslim. And I would say, OK. What if he is a Muslim? What's wrong with being a Muslim? There's absolutely nothing wrong with that.

So this, as I said, it's important tonight to be accurate and to talk about the facts. So we're going to go over a lot of things that happened this week. There was so much, Chris, that happened this week beyond BuzzFeed, the shutdown, and all that. We're going to go over all of it and tell you where we stand coming up.

CUOMO: Beautiful. I will watch. I'll have a drink in my hand, but I'll be watching.

LEMON: You're so lucky. I'll see you at the top of the hour.

CUOMO: All right, D. Lemon.

All right. So, question for us. Which King are we about? As we enter into Martin Luther King Jr. weekend, the easy answer is obvious. Dr. King. But the President still hasn't come out against Steve King and his message of bigotry, not even on the verge of this weekend. Wait. Maybe he has. I will argue we have gotten our answer from the President. In fact, we got it today. Next.


[21:55:31] CUOMO: Our country must celebrate one King and denounce another. Dr. King's name is synonymous with the struggle for equality and the appeal to our better angels, to peaceful opposition and the unyielding pursuit of justice. That is his legacy. One of his many wise ideas that he left us with was in the buildup to the bloody Sunday in Selma, Alabama.

He wrote, "A man dies when he refuses to stand up for that which is right. A man dies when he refuses to stand up for justice. A man dies when he refuses to take a stand for that which is true." His words are testament to his truth, and his murder is testament to the urgency that must always occur whenever King's evil opposite raises its head. That's why I keep reminding you that our President has still not stood up against Steve King's message.

King, who said white nationalist, white supremacist, white civilization -- how did that language become offensive? And today after days of silence, in case you had any question, because he said he didn't know how he could say those things, the congressman thanked Rush Limbaugh fill-in and Fox News' crony, Mark Steyn for his support in his, "Fight in defense of western civilization."

It can't become a pejorative or we will lose our civilization. It is explicitly a pejorative when you define western civilization as belonging only to white people, and King clearly does. And that is the same toxic notion of preference that opposed Dr. King and that's why the President of the greatest experiment in diversity in the history of the world, America, cannot be quiet now. But he is quiet, isn't he?

He has spoken about what he wants to protect and what he wants to punish. Just today he re-tweeted a frankly stupid report from a conservative outlet. Prayer rugs were supposedly found on the border, and an anonymous rancher was in a panic. First, show me who this rancher is. Show me what they found.

And by the way, even if that's all true, so what? What are you trying to say? Muslims crossed illegally? Yes, we know that. All kinds of people from all over try to get into the country. And what do they do? They pray? So what does that mean? They're terrorists, or you're bothered by the praying? No. It's the suggestion. Muslim equals bad, part of the brown menace. The President wants to fold them into that toxic mess, even on the day that we enter into MLK weekend.

This is what he wants America to embrace. Fear the Muslims. Fear the different. See them as the enemy. You're right to fear and hate them. A wall will save us. Shame on him. But I guess that's his answer. Should you embrace King? Should you reject King? I guess that's his answer. But you know what? The answer's a loser. He can demonize the different. He can punish American workers in pursuit of his farcical wall, but he will never change the fundamental truth of this country. Diversity is our strength.

And when the day comes, when color, creed, sex, identity, when those are all irrelevant to the involvement in this experiment, we will be the greatest we have ever been. Make America greater than ever. That's what I would have chosen. He chose make it great again. What does that mean? Inherently backward-looking to the days when diversity was the exception, not the rule. When the thinking of Steve King was all too common. But that hate was put down by something far more powerful and populated by the majority of this country.

It is poison to prejudice and energizes equality, and the one true King, Dr. Martin Luther king Jr., told us years ago what it was and what it can do. Darkness cannot drive out darkness, he said. Only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that. Amen, Dr. King. You and your words are remembered especially now when what we thought was put down has raised its ugly head.

And even if the President chooses to let us all know he will not stand up against his fellow Republicans' ugly message of bigotry, he still represents a minority. And, in fact, he represents more of a minority of this country than ever.

Thank you for watching. CNN TONIGHT WITH D. LEMON starts right now. LEMON: So, Chris, all right. So we're always honest. I was going to say let's be honest. So people love this when you and I talk because it's unscripted and it's real. And this is how we talk to each other in everyday life, right? And we have this very serious conversation about Steve King and about race earlier in the week and people were like, oh my gosh, it's like, well, that's how Chris and I speak to each other every day because that's how real friends talk to each other.