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CNN NEWSROOM

Trump/Pelosi Battle Intensifies; Interview with Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL); Trump Directed Cohen to Lie; Interview with Bill Richardson. Aired 9:30-10a ET

Aired January 18, 2019 - 09:30   ET

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


[09:30:00] PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Postponing a (INAUDIBLE) would loosen things up a little bit. Well, the president is out tweeting this morning, why would Nancy Pelosi leave the country with other Democrats on a seven day excursion when 800,000 people -- great people are not getting paid.

Democrats last night saying the president's move was beneath the office and petty.

I just -- not to kind of sound a dreary note this early on a Friday morning, but things aren't in a good place and they're not in any way headed towards that place any time soon.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Gosh, and it's the workers, the American citizens who pay the salaries of, you know, Congress and to get it figured out that are stuck in the middle. One will join us in a little bit.

Phil, thanks very much.

Jim.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Joining me now is Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger of the great state of Illinois.

Congressman, thanks for taking the time this morning.

REP. ADAM KINZINGER (R), ILLINOIS: You bet. Thanks for having me.

SCIUTTO: I want to get to the shutdown, but first I do want to ask you about this "BuzzFeed" story. You're aware of the headline there that Trump personally instructed then attorney Michael Cohen to lie to Congress about the Moscow Trump Tower project.

Now, there's a big "if" there because Mueller, of course, hasn't said this publicly. And CNN and others have not confirmed it. But if the president were to instruct his lawyer to lie to Congress, in your view, would that be an impeachable offense?

KINZINGER: Yes, I'm not going to go to that level.

Obviously, it's concerning if it's true. And I was watching NEW DAY this morning and I know there's some concerns about the reporter. I'm not saying it's an incorrect story or it is. And it's sourced on anonymous sourcing. So I'll expect to hear more from Mueller or the Mueller report and can -- as every member of Congress should, reserve judgment until we see the facts in their totality.

So, yes, it's obviously very concerning, this accusation, but, you know, for a person like me to stand up and say whether it's impeachable or not impeachable or anything on any of these frankly before we have the totality of evidence I think is frankly dangerous.

SCIUTTO: Do you believe that if Mueller did have proof of that, that this is something that he should break out right now? In other words, show his cards today rather than wait until a final report?

KINZINGER: Yes, I -- see, I don't -- I don't know the kind of -- what a special counsel is supposed to do in terms of do they immediately release any kind of evidence that they're extremely concerned about or do they put it all in the totality of a report. This is all new to me. I have never been around with a special counsel. And so I put a lot of, I guess, kind of faith in that process right now. And I think it seems like probably sooner than later -- and I hope sooner than later, because this has gone on for quite while -- we get the totality of that report and every member of Congress, as an American, not a Republican or Democrat, can see what's going on there.

SCIUTTO: And let me ask you about the shutdown because you voted along with your Democratic colleagues last week to re-open government. You've called the shutdown fight, in the clear terms that you often use, congressman, you've called it flat out stupid.

As you know, GOP leadership is sticking with the president on this in both the House and in the Senate. Is that a mistake?

KINZINGER: No, I -- I think the mistake is that nobody's talking. We have gotten into this -- and this is what's frustrating with me, if I can just, you know, opine for a moment. We are about two weeks, three weeks into a new term. We're already thinking about the presidential election. We're already in re-election mode. And both sides -- my side and the other side -- are stuck in these positions that they're unwilling to come off of to get to a compromise solution.

Compromise is not a dirty word. The whole country was founded on a compromise. Like, the whole Constitution was compromises and it was made to develop it.

So my advice is this, Dems have got to -- Democrats have got to come off the point of, we're never going to talk about a wall. Trust me, I've worked the border. Walls do work in certain areas. We've got to come off our demands and say, what is it that you guys want in this process, how is it that we can all work together? But right now we're all in our corners, we're waiting for one side to completely capitulate and lose. That's what politics has become. And it breaks a system that was built for compromise, not for only winners and losers.

SCIUTTO: You are an Afghan veteran as a pilot. As you know, the president cancelled, very last minute, a CODEL to Afghanistan, Democratic members of the party, in retaliation. White House officials have said it was in retaliation for Nancy Pelosi's request to the president to delay the State of the Union speech. Is that cancelation, a CODEL to visit troops deployed in war zones, is that a presidential decision or is it petty?

KINZINGER: I think it's -- I think this is all petty. And I wish -- if the president was going to cancel, maybe he should have done it quite earlier so it wasn't the spectacle of one hour before. I also think the speaker probably should have cancelled that on her own. I know I've been in other government shutdowns before and have had CODELs and trips cancelled because of that. I think, you know, leaving, even if it's a place like Afghanistan, which is important for her to go to, during a government shutdown is not appropriate.

But that said, cancelling the State of the Union speech was petty. Initially citing security concerns and then saying, well, it's not a security concern, but we just don't want to make people work that they're not getting paid. They will be paid eventually.

Secret Service and, by the way, it's the Capitol Police that actually secure the Capitol during the State of the Union and they are being paid.

[09:35:00] This is all petty. I want all this to go away. I want all of us to just figure out how we can get to an agreement. You're going to -- it's going to be a win-win or a lose-lose. I don't care what you call it. But neither side is going to have a total loss. And it's time that we actually act like adults, like the American people expect us to, and then we can look back and wonder what this whole 30 day shutdown was about, but at least we got something people like.

SCIUTTO: Thirty days, or 60 days or 90 days. Who knows at this point?

On Syria, you met with the president with a small group of lawmakers yesterday, specifically on Syria. As you well know, I don't have to remind you, and we've just identified the soldiers -- the U.S. soldiers who were killed in Syria two days ago. Is -- did the president's decision to withdraw from Syria -- and there are their names there, Jonathan Farmer, Shannon Kent, Scott Wirtz -- is the president's decision to withdraw summarily from Syria, did that put U.S. forces -- does it put U.S. forces in greater risk?

KINZINGER: I'm -- you know, on this attack, I don't -- I don't know the details of why this person did it. This was a member of ISIS who probably traveled from a different country to kill Americans and probably would have done it without this announcement anyway.

I do think, though, when you announce that, you know, ISIS is defeated and we're leaving, that it is a boon to the recruiting efforts of ISIS. I think maybe if you say, look, we're going to shift our strategy to attack out of Iraq, or whatever else that case may be, that's important.

But this is a generational fight, Jim. This is what we don't talk about enough. It took 50 years to defeat the Soviet Union and that was through a different kind of fight. That was through ideas. But that generation of people behind the iron curtain rejected the iron curtain.

SCIUTTO: Right.

KINZINGER: That same thing is going to have to happen to terrorism. We have to be on the offense in the war. We have to win the war of ideas, too.

SCIUTTO: Let me ask you this. Brett McGurk, who until he resigned as a result of the Syria withdrawal, recently has -- he has an op-ed out today in "The Washington Post" that says that the decision to leave, that Trump said he beat ISIS. Instead, he is giving it new life with this withdrawal.

Do you agree?

KINZINGER: Yes, I mean, I think, when you say ISIS is defeated and they're not, it does give them new life. It's similar, to be fair, to the -- President Obama's decision to leave Iraq in 2011. We saw a rejuvenation of al Qaeda, which become ISIS. And so I agree with Mr. McGurk on this.

Now, I will tell you my discussions with the president, and I don't want to reveal a lot of that because that's obviously in the Oval Office, but he is very pained by having to make this decision. He's burdened by what the right thing to do is. That's obvious. And I think he's very cerebral in thinking about what the right thing is. He's just had a wrong voice in his head for a while in the name of Senator Rand Paul.

SCIUTTO: You say he's weighted down by it, but did you sense any wavering on that decision, any reconsideration? I mean, after all, his defense secretary resigned over it.

KINZINGER: I -- you know what, again I -- yes, I don't want to go into because I don't want to reveal. I think those are discussions that should happen in trust. I will say he wants to make the right decision. I will say Rand Paul, you know, continually saying things like, enough war is enough doesn't understand that fighting terrorism is not a choice the United States has. It's just where we fight them is our choice. I will say the president thinks hard about a lot of this stuff. And I'll say that to his -- to his credit.

SCIUTTO: Congressman Adam Kinzinger, thanks very much for joining us.

KINZINGER: You bet. Take care.

HARLOW: All right, so up next, we'll take a deeper look at the proposed Trump Tower Moscow project. How far did it go or not go? It's the one, of course, at the center of this explosive new "BuzzFeed" report.

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[09:42:43] HARLOW: All right, welcome back. A busy Friday morning for Jim and I and all of you to digest this news, this new explosive reporting from "BuzzFeed" shedding light on the Trump Towers project in Moscow. It's important to note, CNN has not independently confirmed this reporting, but the reporting is that the president directed his former attorney, Michael Cohen, to lie to Congress about that project and about how long discussions surrounding it went.

And that's important, right? Fred Pleitgen joins us now from Moscow.

The question here of course is, did the president direct Michael Cohen to lie to Congress about the length of this project and how long discussions went. What do we know about that in terms of this deal? Because according to, you know, the Trump team previously, the narrative has been this was at such an initial stage, this was not taken that seriously, this did not go far. What do you know?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Poppy, it certainly seems as though it was beyond, I would say, initial stages, at least it seemed as though, and it certainly seems to have been taken a lot more seriously than some of the people -- or some of the things that we've heard in the past. It seems as though there have been several efforts to try and get a Trump Tower -- some sort of Trump project going in Moscow over the years. But this particular one seems to have been launched sometime late in 2015, around September of 2015, with, of course, Michael Cohen and Felix Sader spearheading a lot of this stuff. But apparently, according to this "BuzzFeed" report, which, again, of course, we haven't cohobated, President Trump -- or then candidate Trump, a lot more involved than people thought. So the efforts began in 2015.

And then later Michael Cohen claimed that the talks had ended in January of 2016, but apparently that was not true because it was then later found out that he had, in fact, reached out to the Kremlin to try and get this project off the ground, to try and get permissions for this project. It was one of the big things late last year that I was involved with, was trying to get confirmation from the Kremlin, from the press secretary of the Kremlin, Dmitry Peskov, who said, well, yes, we did receive an e-mail from Michael Cohen and, yes, despite the fact that the Kremlin had said that they didn't react to that e-mail, they actually did and they got in touch with Michael Cohen. It was a secretary for Dmitry Peskov who then had discussions with Michael Cohen. It's unclear how far that went.

Now, it seems as though the project then still continued with Felix Sader and Michael Cohen wanting to try and get a trip together for President Trump -- or for candidate Trump, to go to Moscow and to try and lobby for this project. That trip never happened. But it seems as though that was far more than the initial stages. There certainly seemed to have been efforts going on to try and make this enticing for the Russians, like, for instance, offering Vladimir Putin the penthouse apartment in this block that was supposed to be developed.

Poppy.

[09:45:22] HARLOW: Frederik Pleitgen, thank you for laying out the facts and what we know at this point. We appreciate it.

Jim.

SCIUTTO: I'm sure Russia watching this very closely.

North Korea's top negotiator in the nuclear talks is here in Washington right now. Sources say that he has another letter to the president from Kim Jong-un. Will he hand deliver it to Mr. Trump?

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[09:50:08] HARLOW: All right, welcome back.

So, in just over an hour, North Korea's lead negotiator in the nuclear talks, Kim Yong Chol, will meet with the secretary of state, Mike Pompeo. This meeting is taking place in Washington. On the agenda, hammering out details about a second summit that we know President Trump wants to have with Kim Jong-un, Jim.

SCIUTTO: A source tells CNN that Chol is, once again, carrying a personalized letter from the North Korean leader to President Trump. The White House has allocated time for the president to meet face-to- face with Chol this afternoon, though no official meeting has yet been set up.

Let's discuss with the former governor of New Mexico, Bill Richardson. He's also a former U.S. ambassador to the U.N. He's been involved in several direct talks with North Korea.

Mr. Ambassador, thanks very much.

BILL RICHARDSON, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N.: Thank you, Jim.

SCIUTTO: First, let me ask you this. Watching this since that famous summit in Singapore about a half a year ago, what are the results of the negotiations between the U.S. and North Korea so far. They're verifiable, irreversible results on denuclearization. Are there any other than discussing yet another summit?

RICHARDSON: Well, the window is closing for progress since that summit. And usually what happens when the talks are in trouble, the spy chief, Kim Yong Chol, comes to see the president, gives him a nice letter from Kim Jong-un making very vague promises and nothing happens.

I think U.S. negotiators are taking the right position. They want to see the North Koreans take even one step towards denuclearization, like disclose where their weapons and missiles are and inventory. And North Korea hasn't done that. They've done some good things on remains of our soldiers.

But the talks right now are very much at a standstill. And what needs to happen is, North Korea needs to do something. You know what they want. What North Korea wants is they want an end to the Korean War, a declaration, and they want some sanctions relief. And we're saying to them, OK, maybe we'll do this, but you've got to show something on denuclearization, and North Korea isn't doing it. Maybe it's good that the spy chief is here, but usually when he comes to Washington with a letter, it could mean more vague promises and buying time. HARLOW: Ambassador Richardson, as someone who has travelled a number

of times to North Korea, right, to help in prison releases, et cetera, what do you make of the school of thought -- there is a camp that believes that North Korea has not done anything really other than the soldiers remains being returned, some of them, because they have a strategy that they think will work in terms of going to a summit number two and getting further concessions out of President Trump?

RICHARDSON: Well, Poppy, I think that's a -- that's a good assessment. The president wants a summit also. He loves these summits. And sometimes he gets in trouble. And Kim Jong-un wants the summit again to show his people that he's on the world stage with the president of the United States.

But Kim Jong-un, so far, I would lay more blame on the North Koreans as not taking almost any steps on denuclearization. Yes, he has, for instance, not had any detonations of nuclear weapons, no missiles tests. And that is good. There is less tension on the peninsula. But on the commitments that he made at the first summit, he hasn't delivered.

And then we have the president, who should let his negotiators -- he's got a good negotiator in the special envoy, Steven Biegun -- get a little more out of the North Koreans, not be so eager for a new summit without some commitments by the North Koreans.

SCIUTTO: By the administration's own standards, at the start of these negotiations, complete, verifiable, irreversible steps by North Korea -- north -- to denuclearize, none of that has happened to this point. Is it -- is it a mistake for President Trump to reward, in effect, North Korea with another piece of that world stage you described, another face-to-face meeting with the U.S. president without any of the steps of the administration defined as success in these talks?

RICHARDSON: It would be a mistake if the president just agrees to another summit without some concrete commitments from the North Koreans. Maybe if they establish a framework for negotiations, OK, North Korea, we'll do something on sanctions relief, we'll do something on the declaration of war against you, but you take some concrete steps, like the inventory of where your weapons are, where your missiles are and a commitment for verification and to go look at them. Unless we get something like that, I think giving a summit to the North Koreans, having another summit with another letter that says, you know, we're buddies and let's get together again and talk, I think would be a mistake. And I hope it doesn't happen. I -- the president should back his negotiators on this. And the worry is that he won't. He -- he'll be too eager for a new summit.

[09:55:16] HARLOW: You say it's a mistake, Ambassador Richardson, but is it dangerous?

RICHARDSON: Yes. You don't want the state of tension that existed before. What motivates both leaders is both want an improvement in relations. Both want less tension. Both want a summit. I think the president should be patient and let his negotiators get something out of the North Koreans. But we should send -- this is how the North Koreans negotiate. They want you to give everything at first and then they don't do much. That's what they're doing again. Make them -- make them take some steps.

HARLOW: And you certainly know from your extensive experience on that front with the regime.

Bill Richardson, thank you very much. Have a nice weekend.

RICHARDSON: Thank you.

HARLOW: We're following all the new developments this morning, and boy there are a lot of them. Stunning. A report out this morning from "BuzzFeed" claiming that President Trump directed Michael Cohen to lie to Congress about that project to potentially build a Trump Tower in Moscow. Huge implications if that is true. Stay with us.

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