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CNN NEWSROOM

Carl Bernstein Discusses Latest Developments in the Russia Investigation; Furloughed Federal Employees Are Budgeting for Food in Survival Mode; President Trump and White House Press Office Painting Michael Cohen as Liar in Response to Buzzfeed Article; Pentagon This Morning Names Three of the Four Americans Killed in Syria. Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired January 18, 2019 - 10:30   ET

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


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN, the most-trusted name in news.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: Back now with Buzzfeed's really stunning headline, that President Trump, quote, "personally instructed his then-attorney and fixer Michael Cohen to lie to Congress about the Moscow Trump Tower project during the heat of the campaign."

CNN, we should be clear, has not independently confirmed this. But if it were to be true, it means the president told someone to lie under oath which, very simply, is a crime and is impeachable.

Joining me now is the legendary Watergate journalist and CNN political analyst Carl Bernstein.

Carl, thank you for taking the time this morning.

CARL BERNSTEIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Good to be with you.

SCIUTTO: So with the proviso that if this is corroborated by others and if Robert Mueller has this evidence here, the significance?

BERNSTEIN: Well, first, it's a very big "if." And we need to know a lot of surrounding information about this whole event and about what Cohen might or might not have said, and a lot of detail about what the circumstantial evidence that might support this demonstrates.

So we're a good ways from knowing where we are with it. Obviously, this is a very important story, if true and accurate and contextual. And that's what we need to wait to see.

I think, meanwhile, we need to look at it as part of a pattern, though --

SCIUTTO: Yes.

BERNSTEIN: -- of news of the last couple weeks. And the important thing in many ways is, no matter how sensational this story, the pattern itself is so damning --

SCIUTTO: Yes. BERNSTEIN: -- about the president of the United States, and his

conduct as a candidate and as the president, in terms of, whether wittingly, unwittingly, half-wittingly, he has been manipulated at almost every significant turn by Vladimir Putin.

But the other -- go ahead, Jim. Sorry.

SCIUTTO: It's a good point about the pattern. Because I think folks at home often -- it's easy to lose track of this. Keep in mind we learned, as you said, we learned that the president's campaign chairman gave polling data, it is alleged, to the Russians.

We already knew that the president's national security advisor apparently offered relief on Russian -- on sanctions on Russia during the transition.

I think it is important to look in that broader pattern. But another part of that pattern, is it not, Carl, that Michael Cohen has pled guilty. He's pleaded guilty to a crime of taking the president's direction to break campaign finance law.

TEXT: At Least Three Times Cohen Implicated Trump; Says Trump directed him to pay off Stormy Daniels; Says Trump directed him to pay someone to fix polls; Says he was directed to lie to Congress regarding Trump Tower talks

SCIUTTO: You know, that part of the pattern is listening to the president to do either shady things or illegal things.

BERNSTEIN: Look, Michael Cohen, thus far, has proved to be a very damaging witness to the president of the United States.

And the other thing that Cohen has given to prosecutors, that has been confirmed, I think, by numerous news organizations including CNN, which originally broke the story, is that Cohen claims that Trump was told about the so-called Trump Tower meeting before it occurred.

At which Manafort, his son and others were present in the expectation that the Russians were going to deliver dirt on Hillary Clinton, and that they welcomed this entreaty from the Russians.

So there is -- let's go back to this big pattern question. But if this specific story that Buzzfeed has is accurate, there's an element that's particularly stunning and important, and that is because it involves directing -- allegedly directing -- Michael Cohen to lie not just to an investigative body, but to the Congress of the United States.

The Republicans thus far have been craven and unwilling to demand really serious investigation themselves, and to join in a bipartisan effort to say, "We really want to get to the bottom of this."

[10:34:55] Lying to the Congress offends Republican congressmen as well as Democratic congressmen. It's a kind of threshold that has a psychological aspect that we have not, perhaps, encountered --

SCIUTTO: Yes.

BERNSTEIN: -- in terms of what it might do with the sensibility of Republicans on the Hill. The great question thus far is, why haven't Republicans thus far -- except for self-interest and very little interest in the national -- what's really good for the country -- been more demanding of "Let's get to the bottom of Donald Trump and the Russians"?

Remember, all of the lying, all of the president's lying -- not all of the lying, but the most egregious and consistent of the president's lying and that of his family, that of his sons, has been about Russia.

It has been --

SCIUTTO: Yes.

BERNSTEIN: -- consistently dishonest.

So this story, if accurate, fits in -- and we also have other --

SCIUTTO: Yes.

BERNSTEIN: -- indications of obstruction by the president of the United States. But this story, if accurate, raises the level --

SCIUTTO: Right.

BERNSTEIN: -- but we need a lot more on how it fits in the pattern.

SCIUTTO: No question. And the why. The why the lies, specifically, about Russia.

Carl Bernstein, thanks very much, as always.

BERNSTEIN: Good to be with you.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: All right. Another very important story we will not forget, here, is the people caught in the crosshairs of this shutdown.

How do you put food on the table when you're not getting a paycheck and you're a single parent? The reality? One woman, next, a furloughed worker who says she is hiding in her car to cry so her children don't see her despair.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[10:41:16] HARLOW: Welcome back to the shutdown now, and the human toll. Brenner Stiles is a mother of three. Three kids, aged 21, 16 and 4.

She's also a government worker on furlough. That means she is not getting paid. So what's she doing? She's picking and choosing which bills she can pay, asking to defer those she can't afford.

She calls this shutdown "psychologically traumatizing." She's worried her 16-year-old is going without lunch each day, afraid to ask her for lunch money.

And she had to tell her 4-year-old, just the other day, that no, he can't go to camp with his classmates because she can't afford it. Her hope and her words, that America can stop fighting.

Brenner Stiles joins me now. Good morning.

BRENNER STILES, FURLOUGHED FEDERAL EMPLOYEE: Good morning. Thank you for having me. As an AFG (ph) member, I really appreciate the time that you've dedicated to have with me.

HARLOW: Of course. And we won't stop until the shutdown stops.

So in your words, "psychologically traumatizing." What are you going through every day? Just thinking of simple things like, "What am I going to make for dinner for my family tonight?"

STILES: Exactly. Just what am I going to make for dinner, how am I going to get dinner to last, you know, a couple of days.

Even simple things as, you know, such as what are we going to drink, you know. We're down to just tea. We don't do sodas. It's tea and water and maybe even possible -- lemonade, you know? You have to start really -- you have to get into survival mode. And really, that's what it's about.

And I've spoken to a lot of colleagues and friends and coworkers, and they're doing the same thing. They're in survival mode, so.

HARLOW: We see these beautiful pictures of you with your three kids, Elijah (ph), Mason (ph) and Taylor (ph). I know you've been trying to hide the pain of a lot of this from your children, even going as far as hiding in your car and crying --

STILES: Yes.

HARLOW: -- so they don't see you.

STILES: Yes. I've cried in my car at least two times. I've cried in the shower, you know, when they're just not around. I have sleepless nights. Sleepless nights. There's days where I've went without eating because -- not because I can't eat, but I'm just not hungry. It's psychologically traumatizing.

You go through so many different emotions because you just don't know. It's that idea of not knowing that really stresses you out. And it stresses out many of my fellow federal employee friends and coworkers. We talk about it daily, you know? We just want to go back to work. We just want the shutdown ended. That's all we're asking for.

The effects of the shutdown have caused so much pain and worry and just -- has disrupted a lot of different things within the federal government. I've got coworkers that were right in the middle of retirement. And so their retirements are up in limbo.

HARLOW: You're also an Army veteran. I mean -- STILES: That's correct.

HARLOW: -- you've put -- you've put your life on the line in the ultimate service to --

STILES: That's correct.

HARLOW: -- this country.

STILES: That's correct.

HARLOW: Politics aside, I know you didn't vote in the last election. But you said if you had, you would have voted for Hillary Clinton.

But putting --

STILES: That's correct.

HARLOW: -- you know, aside your political views, has the American government failed you?

STILES: I wouldn't say the American government has failed me. I just feel like the American government needs to have a conversation. They need to sit down and compromise. We do need border security. That is important. But we need adults to compromise.

[10:45:00] And right now, what's going on, it just seems like federal employees are utilized as pawns in politics. And I think it's very un-American and it's not fair to the people who work on the front lines in support of the federal government to make sure that things are in place and that things that -- run in an orderly fashion.

HARLOW: You got this letter from your employer. And part of that letter said, "This will be a short-term event." Now we're almost a month in. Do you believe that this will be prolonged and protracted?

STILES: Honestly, my heart is telling me that, yes, I believe we're probably going to be furloughed a lot longer than we would like.

We would love for it to be ended tomorrow or next week. But unfortunately, I foresee it lasting probably up until March if --

HARLOW: Until March?

STILES: -- you know. Yes.

HARLOW: What are -- Brenner, finally, what are your children saying to you? I mean, I know for your 4-year-old, you know, he can't get his head around this. But what are your older children saying to you about this?

STILES: You know, my children have been very compassionate. They understand. But I can see the worry in their eyes as well. You know, when I tell them, "Mommy is not getting a paycheck," they know and understand what that means.

But they've been very compassionate, very supportive and very well- behaved. So they've eliminated a lot of undue stress --

HARLOW: Yes.

STILES: -- and they work with me, so.

HARLOW: I'm glad to hear it. Thank you very much for sharing this with us, and good luck to you. We're thinking of you for sure.

STILES: Thank you.

HARLOW: Brenner Stiles.

STILES: What (ph) I'd like to say --

HARLOW: Yes.

STILES: Thank you.

HARLOW: Yes?

STILES: I'd like to say one more thing. I've received a lot of support from people all across the nation. And I'd like to thank each and every American out there that has reached out to me as a government employee and an American --

HARLOW: Yes.

STILES: -- and has been so understanding and very kind. And thank you all for that.

HARLOW: Amen to that. Brenner, thank you.

We'll be right back.

STILES: Thank you for having me.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[10:51:34] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is CNN, the most-trusted name in news.

SCIUTTO: This morning, it's becoming clear of how the president and the White House plan to handle Buzzfeed's latest bombshell report on Michael Cohen. Their plan? To continue to paint Cohen as a liar. Joe Johns is at the White House.

And, Joe, the story, of course, says -- unconfirmed by CNN -- that Bob Mueller has multiple witnesses on this --

JOE JOHNS, SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Right.

SCIUTTO: -- and other evidence, but the White House, going to sort of an old favorite here of zeroing in on Cohen.

JOHNS: You hit the nail on the head, Jim, there. Look, this is one of those situations where the president has tweeted this morning, the Press Office has weighed in. And so far, their responses have been around the edges of the story and not a denial of the core allegations in the Buzzfeed article.

The president tweeted this morning, going after his old lawyer, Michael Cohen. I'll just read it to you.

TEXT: Kevin Corke, @FoxNews "Don't forget, Michael Cohen has already been convicted of perjury and fraud, and as recently as this week, the Wall Street Journal has suggested that he may have stolen tens of thousands of dollars...." Lying to reduce his jail time! Watch father-in-law!

JOHNS: Don't forget, Michael Cohen has already been convicted of perjury and fraud. And as recently as this week, "The Wall Street Journal" has suggested he may have stolen tens of thousands of dollars. Lying to reduce his jail time.

Important also to say, CNN has not been able to verify the information in the Buzzfeed report. Hogan Gidley of the White House Press Office, today, was on Fox. He went after Buzzfeed.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The president personally directed his personal attorney Michael Cohen to lie to Congress about negotiations involving that Trump Tower.

HOGAN GIDLEY, WHITE HOUSE PRINCIPAL DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is that true or false?

GIDLEY: Right, but the president's attorney's also addressed this. I'm not going to -- I'm not going to give any credence or credibility to Michael Cohen, who's a convicted felon and an admitted liar. That's just ridiculous. I'm not going to do that from the White House.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JOHNS: So, there you go. Very much going after Michael Cohen. But once again, I've got to say, you hit the nail on the head.

The allegation is that there is a lot of corroboration, including interviews with witnesses and documents including text messages, other documents. That's what we want to hear from the White House about -- back to you.

SCIUTTO: That'll be the test here. Joe Johns, thanks very much.

HARLOW: All right. So we now, this morning, know the names of three of the four Americans killed in this week's deadly bombing in Syria. We will go to the Pentagon next for that.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[10:58:13] HARLOW: So this morning, the military has identified three of the four Americans killed this week by that suicide bomber in Syria -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr at the Pentagon.

Barbara, servicemen and women dying in the war zone.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Dying in combat, Jim, with the Pentagon now releasing the names of some of these people -- three of them. The fourth was a civilian contractor, so that will be released by the person's company.

TEXT: Americans Killed in Syria; Jonathan R. Farmer, Boynton Beach, Florida; Shannon M. Kent, Upstate New York; Scott A. Wirtz, St. Louis, Missouri

STARR: Chief Foreign Officer Jonathan Farmer, part of Fifth Special Forces Group. Navy Cryptologic Technician Shannon Kent, that is the female. She was a cryptologist translator. A civilian, Scott Wirtz of -- he was assigned to the Defense Intelligence Agency but was a veteran of Navy Seals when he was on active duty.

What is so interesting is, all three of these people serving in northern Syria had very specific, very special military intelligence capabilities and training.

They were in an area that Westerners had been known to frequent. We are told that they were on a mission to have a local engagement with people in the area. But the Pentagon, to this -- at this point, releasing no additional information about what they were all exactly doing -- back to you guys.

SCIUTTO: Barbara Starr, thanks very much.

And, Poppy, it's a reminder that every day, we have --

HARLOW: Yes.

SCIUTTO: -- American servicemembers, men and women and civilians as well, in the line of fire. And --

HARLOW: Yes.

SCIUTTO: -- this was one of those cases and none of us can forget that.

HARLOW: No. No, no, no. The ultimate sacrifice, for sure, in Syria. ISIS claiming responsibility. It's a tragedy.

Jim and everyone, we're glad you're with us today. A lot of news. Thank you for being with us. We'll see you back here, Monday morning. I'm Poppy Harlow.

SCIUTTO: And I'm Jim Sciutto in Washington. "AT THIS HOUR WITH KATE BOLDUAN" starts right now.