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BuzzFeed News Reports Trump Directed Cohen To Lie to Congress About the Moscow Tower Project; Attorney General Nominee Says Coaching the Witness Is Obstruction of Justice; Nancy Pelosi Says Trump "Outing" Our Trip Made Things More Dangerous. Aired 2-2:30p ET
Aired January 18, 2019 - 14:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[14:00:00] BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: Appearing alongside his wife Karen telling the crowd that this is the generation that will restore right to life in America. Pence will speak at a dinner tonight as well. The rally's organizer is claiming that this year's crowd is the largest ever. That is it for me. Brooke Baldwin starts right now.
BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: Hi, there. I'm Brooke Baldwin: You're watching CNN. A giant story from BuzzFeed tonight involving President Trump and Michael Cohen and an explosive claim that Trump told him to lie to Congress. If true, here's two words we're going to learn today, suborning perjury. CNN has not confirmed this. Not only is suborning perjury a crime, it was also part of the articles of impeachment against both former Presidents Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton and we're all old enough to remember 2016 and here was then candidate Trump during the Presidential debate.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I know nothing about Russia. I know about Russia, but I know nothing about the inner workings of Russia. I have no loans from Russia.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BALDWIN: Today the President and his attorney Rudy Giuliani are calling Michael Cohen a liar. More on that in just a moment. All this reporting is based upon accounts from two federal law enforcement officials with ties to the investigations, so not Michael Cohen and again CNN has not independently verified BuzzFeed's reporting. There is one more thing. The article claims that Cohen did not bring this information to the special counsel Robert Mueller. Mueller actually brought it to him from this piece. Let me quote, the special counsel's office learned about Trump's directive for Cohen to lie to Congress through interviews with multiple witnesses from the Trump organization and internal company emails, text messages and a cache of other documents. Cohen acknowledged those instructions during the interview with that office. Let's start with Jessica Schneider. This BuzzFeed report it actually mirrors court records, so explain to us how that is.
JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: If you read between the lines of these court filings, Brooke, BuzzFeed's reporting -- first off, it fits. The first bombshell is that the President directed Michael Cohen to lie about the Trump tower Moscow. If you look at the sentencing memo for Michael Cohen prosecutors put it this way about Cohen's cooperation and what he told them. Cohen described the circumstances of preparing and circulating his response to the Congressional inquiries while continuing to accept responsibility for the false statements contained within it. That indicates without revealing that Michael Cohen told investigators exactly how he prepared to testify before Congress. He also wrote up something for Congress and it does open the door for BuzzFeed's reporting that the President told Cohen what he could say and reportedly directed him to lie. Then there's another part of BuzzFeed's reporting that the President supported a plan for President Trump or then candidate Trump to visit Russia during the campaign and meet with Vladimir Putin one- on-one. BuzzFeed even reports that the President told Cohen to, quote, make it happen. Meaning that meeting between him and Putin. And really the court documents say much of the same. And Mueller's charging documents against Michael Cohen it describes this, it describes how Cohen took steps in contemplation of individual one works we know is the President, individual one's possible travel to Russia. So, Brooke, all of it really laid out cryptically in those court filings. Today, with those additional explosive revelation and details by BuzzFeed that does fit into this.
BALDWIN: How's Rudy Giuliani responding to this reporting?
SCHNEIDER: He's unequivocally denying this report and he's also repeating the rhetoric we've seen from the President and his team all along, that Michael Cohen is a liar. Here's Giuliani's statement that he released today. "Any suggestion from any source that the President counseled Michael Cohen to lie is categorically false. Michael Cohen is a convicted criminal and a liar. To quote the prosecutors, "He has traded on a fifth pattern of lies and dishonesty over an extended period of time and for that he's going to pay a very, very serious price. Today's claims are just more made up lies born of Michael Cohen's malice and desperation in order to reduce his sentence."
So, a loaded statement there. But what is interesting is what you pointed out right at the top. This isn't just Michael Cohen's word. We are learning from this BuzzFeed article that Robert Mueller has other witnesses and documents and texts and emails to reportedly back this up that the President directed Cohen to lie. Brooke?
BALDWIN: He has the receipts as folks have been saying. Thank you so much. Let's analyze all of it. Paul Callan is with us our CNN legal analyst, MJ Lee is here CNN national political correspondent has done so much reporting on Cohen. David Gergen, former Presidential adviser to Nixon, Ford, Reagan and Clinton.
[14:05:00] Welcome, welcome to all of you round-robin, David Gergen, starting with you just out of the gate. If true, how damning is this?
DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: If true and that's still a big if, no other news organization other than BuzzFeed has this story at this point, but if it is true, it is a game changer. It would be the first time we have a serious allegation the President of the United States did try to suborn perjury, did ask someone else to lie. That is a felony and no President is spared from that. Bill Barr who is just becoming the Attorney General has said in his testimony, if a person including the President asks someone to lie or direct someone to lie before Congress or law enforcement agency, that is a felony and that felony law applies to all citizens including the President of the United States.
BALDWIN: On the lying, I want to ask you MJ, the BuzzFeed story says Trump directed Cohen to lie about the Russia project, where have we heard that before?
MJ LEE, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: This is a line that we keep hearing over and over again. This is the familiar Michael Cohen versus Donald Trump dynamic at this point. We have heard it when it comes to the payments to the women, that Donald Trump directed Michael Cohen to arrange these payments. We were talking about this just yesterday as you remember about the rigging of online polls that Cohen claims -- that the President directed Michael Cohen to be involved in finding someone to rig these online polls to make him look good and then now this about the lying to Congress, about the Moscow project that it was at the direction of the President. This is the defense that Michael Cohen is now using when it comes to so many things and I'm completely sympathetic to the people out there who are going to be skeptical about all things Michael Cohen just because of the role that he played in Donald Trump's life and in the campaign, just how ferociously defensive he was of the President, but it is also important to keep in mind that at least when it comes to one of those three things, the payments to the women, we have Michael Cohen saying that it was at Donald Trump's direction, that he arranged those payments. We have AMI confirming that this is what happened. We have SDNY confirming it. It seems like there's agreement that it was at Donald Trump's direction. Of course, when it comes to this news story, we don't know yet.
BALDWIN: Trump has disavowed all knowledge and most importantly business ties to Russia during the campaign. Behind the scenes he was working to cover-up his involvement. Do you think this is a classic case that the cover-up is worse than the crime?
PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It's really shaping up in a way that it is kind of analogous to the Watergate burglary. Nixon didn't go down because of one count of trying to suborn perjury, there were a whole bunch of things that he did to try to cover-up the Watergate burglary and that eventually forced him to resign. What you're seeing here with the Russia probe, this perjury relates directly to the Trump organization's relationship to the Russians. How much the President knew about that relationship, whether he was pursuing that relationship? And much of the Mueller probe has been focused on that. This could be one piece of a larger picture of criminal activity that Mueller may be looking at.
BALDWIN: As we pointed out a second ago, Mueller has receipts and these documents, these emails and text messages and so it's -- they're not just taking Michael Cohen's word for it. Team Mueller obviously has information to back this up and if this is the smoking gun and that is a big if, wouldn't this be obstruction with a capital "O."
CALLAN: Yes. This would be the kind of felony that people go to jail for. Now, I don't know if it's enough to knock the President of the United States out of the box, OK? One count of perjury, a contested count by Cohen who's obviously a professional liar and some people would say the President has some skills in that department also. As a lawyer, I know when all of the witnesses in a case are liars, the jury kind of throws up its hands sometimes and says, who do I believe? This doesn't necessarily mean it's a great case just because Cohen says it is.
[14:10:00] BALDWIN: Go ahead, David. I can tell you want to jump in.
DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: One of the differences from everything else we've had in the past in this whole investigation is that we've had very, very few leaks from within the legal investigatory people. This is a leak from two people who have been federal investigators as you pointed out at the top Brooke and it's also true that there's an element of leaks from within the legal investigatory people. This is a leak from two people who have been federal investigators as you pointed out at the top Brooke and it's also true that there's an element here we haven't seen before and that is that Cohen was coached by lawyers very close to the administration on what to say and that -- if that is true, that part of the story is true, we not only have an obstruction, we have a conspiracy by people who either in the White House or close to the White House who may have coached Cohen on exactly what he was going to say.
BALDWIN: Do you think, David, just staying with you because, you know, some Democrats obviously have been talking impeachment if this report is true but we've heard from the house speaker who isn't quite going that far. Do you think we're in impeachment territory?
GERGEN: I think we're in impeachment territory. I think we ought to proceed with great caution. We're now in a situation where a great deal is at stake for the Republic on whether the Donald Trump is treated fairly, whether his people are treated fairly, and because it's such a delicate time now, I think all of us need to slow down, let the facts unfold, let's see what we have, and not get too far out. I do think there are very suspicious patterns emerging. It is not a defense of what is being alleged in BuzzFeed to just go after Michael Cohen's credibility. We know he lies. This is not about his lying, it is about evidence accumulated by the special counsel's office independent of him, of Michael Cohen.
BALDWIN: What about the family here? When you read this BuzzFeed piece, it's the children who are implicated. Cohen says he gave both regular updates on the Moscow project that was hinted at around Michael Cohen's guilty plea. Don Junior testified at Congress in September of '17 saying he was quote/unquote, "peripherally aware of it." Afterwards Democrats said it is possible that he lied. A spokesperson
for Ivanka Trump saying to CNN, she was only quote minimally involved. How much jeopardy could these family members be in?
CALLAN: Their knowledge of the fact that something was going on with the Trump Tower Moscow deal and that illegal or lies have been said about that is not necessarily criminal for them to know that and not do anything about it. It's a different thing if they testified under oath, then you have perjury. It's a different thing if they met with Cohen or were in the room when the President was trying to coach him if that happened. Then they could be involved. The second thing I always look at in this whole investigation, I think this could arise to the level of a serious felony. I doubt that it's enough to knock out the President of the United States. I think you need a bigger, stronger package than that and Mueller may be putting that together. I think that's what we have to wait and see what happens and if family members of Trump are going to be implicated that could be a reason for him to resign and try to work out a deal to save his family.
BALDWIN: OK. Him and resigning is an entirely different conversation that perhaps we'll have down the line. Paul, thank you so much. MJ, I have more for you.
Coming up, North Korea's lead negotiator leaving the White House a moment ago. What, if anything, was agreed upon there? And just in, a Democratic senator is now calling on the FBI to open an investigation into the Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and whether she lied to Congress in sworn testimony.
[14:15:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
BALDWIN: We're back. This is CNN. Democrats who officially took control of the house of representatives two weeks ago are vowing to investigate if the President obstructed justice alleging that he directed his then attorney to lie under oath. A detail CNN has not independently confirmed. Leaders of the House Intelligence and Judiciary Committees have promised to get to the bottom of it and it's not just Democrats emphasizing the gravity of the situation. Listen to this Republican Senator James Lankford.
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SEN. JAMES LANKFORD (R) CALIFORNIA: This is about being directed to lie to Congress, it's a very big issue. We've got to get both sides of the story and get the facts out as we're trying to do with all this.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If he did direct her to lie to Congress, is that an impeachable offense?
LANKFORD: I'm not going to start to go there, I want to get all the facts on this as we should.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BALDWIN: Let's talk further about this. CNN national political REPORTER MJ Lee who has interviewed Michael Cohen and CNN SENIOR political analyst David Gergen, adviser for Presidents and now the Harvard School of Government So I want to point out everyone that the cause and effect we're seeing from the Presidents decisions, if you fire FBI Director James Comey, then you have Special Counsel Robert Mueller, if you fire Attorney General Jeff Sessions, then you now have the AG nominee William Barr who was just asked about obstruction of justice this week during his confirmation hearings. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
[14:20:00] SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R) SOUTH CAROLINA: So, if there was some reason to believe that the President tried to coach somebody not to testify or testify falsely, that could be obstruction of justice?
WILLIAM BARR, NOMINEE FOR ATTORNEY GENERAL: Yes, under that -- under an obstruction statute, yes.
GRAHAM: If there's some evidence that the President tried to conceal evidence, that would be obstruction of justice potentially, right?
GRAHAM: In your memo, you talked about the Comey decision and you talk about obstruction of justice and you already went over that. You wrote on page one that a President persuading a person to commit perjury would be obstruction, is that right?
BARR: Yes. Any person who persuades another, Yes.
GRAHAM: You also said that a President or any person convincing a witness to change testimony would be obstruction, is that right?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BALDWIN: David, you first. Is this not potentially the most consequential nomination of Trump's presidency?
GERGEN: Absolutely and I think the fact that Bill Barr has stated unequivocally, no qualifiers, that if you encourage someone to lie or direct them to lie to Congress or law enforcement that is a felony, that is a violation of the law in and of itself and remember that Bill Barr's previously the -- one of the reasons his nomination was in some controversy was over the question of what fits obstruction of justice and what is outside that and he's been arguing in that memo, basically, that if you look at the constitutional powers of the President, if he's acting within those constitutional powers, that's not obstruction, but if he acts outside the constitutional powers, then that can be obstruction and he specifically said in his testimony repeatedly that suborning a witness, getting a witness to lie is outside the powers of the presidency, it is a felony and it can be charged as such and the President -- we do not have confirmation on any of the things that are in BuzzFeed so far, but if it's -- if it's an -- if the President encouraged someone to lie, he can be held on a felony charge and on obstruction and that's what happened to Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton. They were both held to obstructed because they encouraged lying.
BALDWIN: When you listen, MJ, yes, David Gergen. When you listen to the Senators Klobuchar and Graham, they hit the -- they hit the nail on the head and this is a few days before we learned of this BuzzFeed reporting. Is it possible that these senators knew what was coming? LEE: I don't know if someone in their position would have known that
this specific story was coming, but in a lot of ways it is not surprising that she would have wanted to ask him exactly that in the few minutes of time that she had with him. Democrats in general are now preparing and laying the ground work as much as they can for potential impeachment proceedings and they just want to be prepared, right. Two reasons it is not surprising to me that Klobuchar would have really wanted to nail down on this specific issue with Barr, one, is that there have already been a lot of concerns raised especially by Democrats about Barr's views of the Mueller investigation particularly because of that memo that Barr sent to Trump's legal team. Did he already have preconceived judgements about the investigation that would be very concerning to Democrats and this was an issue going into the confirmation hearing that Democrats really wanted to drill down on and get answers on the record from him. The second thing is there are multiple Trump associates who have acknowledged already that they had lied, so asking the ag nominee, what are your views on somebody who might have lied and if specifically the President may have directed these people to lie, give us your on the record assessment of what that would mean in terms of whether it's criminal or not. It makes total sense that they would have asked about this.
BALDWIN: Thank you. Always a pleasure. Guys, thank you so much.
Speaking of lying, coming up next, did she lie to Congress? A Democratic senator is now calling on the FBI to open an investigation into DHS Secretary Kirstjen NielSEN. We'll tell you why next.
[14:25:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
BALDWIN: The situation just went from petty to personal between President Trump and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Pelosi is now accusing the White House of leaking details of her trip to visit troops in Afghanistan. We were reporting this yesterday that President Trump abruptly denied Pelosi's use of a military plane for this overseas Congressional delegation when the House Speaker planned to then fly commercial, that is when she said the White House put her delegation in danger.
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[14:30:00] NANCY PELOSI, HOUSE SPEAKER: We have prerogative to travel commercially and we made plans to do that until the administration then leaked that we were traveling commercially and that endangers -- we weren't going to go because we had report from Afghanistan that the President outing our trip had made the scene on the ground much more dangerous.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BALDWIN: Of course, never far from our hearts and minds, you know, caught in the middle of this tit for tat, the 800,000 federal workers who are filing into food banks now and unemployment offices waiting on the longest government shutdown in history to end. With me now CNN Sarah Westwood at the White House and so, let's focus on Speaker Pelosi's words there. Tell me more about what it is she's alleging. SARAH WESTWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Brooke, this is a
serious accusation from Speaker Pelosi.