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Pelosi's Office Says Trump Endangered CODEL, Troops in Afghanistan; Sen. Jeff Merkley Asks FBI to Investigate DHS Secretary for Perjury over Families Separations at Border; Trump, Giuliani Deny "BuzzFeed" Report on Urging Cohen to Lie to Congress; Trump Meets with North Korean Nuclear Negotiator; "BuzzFeed" Report Puts Trump Children Under Scrutiny in Moscow Trump Tower Project. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired January 18, 2019 - 14:30   ET


[14:30:00] BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: 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. She accused the Trump administration of leaking details about alternative travel arrangements she and other lawmakers made after President Trump denied her use of government aircraft to travel on that planned congressional delegation to Afghanistan. The White House is denying that anyone there leaked details of the commercial travel arrangements. They were claiming they wouldn't do anything to endanger lawmakers, which was a somewhat misleading statements given that congressional delegation trips are hot spot they're secret for a reason, and President Trump exposed the existence of this trip to Afghanistan when he made public the letter he sent to Pelosi informing her that she could no longer use a government plane.

The White House is sending mixed messages about what exactly prompted this letter. One senior White House official said that it was not a response to Pelosi's suggestion a day earlier that Trump delay his State of the Union address until after the government is reopened. Another senior administration official saying, minutes later, that this was retaliation. But either way, this escalating feud means the two sides are no closer to any kind of legislative.

Meanwhile, Pelosi is saying that she hopes the leaks of her commercial flight plane was not retaliation for her State of the Union move. Take a listen.


REP. NANCY PELOSI, (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: The fact that they would leak the commercial -- that we were flying commercial is a danger not only to us but to other people flying commercially. It's very irresponsible on the part of the president.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Do you view this as retaliation for your letter?

PELOSI: I would hope not. I don't think the president would be that petty, do you? (END VIDEO CLIP)

WESTWOOD: The acting budget director announced today that all delegates using commercial aircraft will be canceled. That was an announcement that raised eyebrows, given after the first lady just yesterday traveled down to West Palm Beach using a government airplane. And given the fact that even though President Trump denied Pelosi the ability to visit troops on a government plane during the shutdown, he himself visited troops in Iraq, obviously, on a government plane while the shutdown was under way.

Brooke, a lot of contradictions from this White House during this petty back and forth between the president and the speaker.

BALDWIN: Sarah, thank you.

Elaina Plott is with me, White House correspondent for "The Atlantic" and CNN political analyst.

I can hear the thought bubbles of everyone watching saying, make this stop, make this all just end.

On this charge from Speaker Pelosi, of all people, saying that it was the White House that leaked information that put her congressional delegation in danger, it's the speaker of the House, how significant is this?

ELAINA PLOTT, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think it's incredibly significant, Brooke. As a reporter, I don't know that I found any one image more instructive for understanding the whim-driven nature of this White House than what we saw yesterday, which is congressional members on this bus headed to get ready to go overseas, and immediately just in real time as we watched this Brooke, the bus turns around to head back to Capitol Hill luggage is carted back to members' office. Juxtaposing a scene like that with a clip like you just showed, which is to say federal workers dealing with the very, very real and tangible consequences of this back and forth, this petty back and forth between the White House and the speaker, juxtaposing those two things really gets at the crux of what is, you know, really so toxic to American right now about this government shutdown while the speaker and Donald Trump are engaging in what many believe to be a purely political fight with regard to this shutdown. There are actual people experiencing the impact of this and if polling continues to suggest that American put the blame on Trump for this, he's really in danger in 2020 for rationalizing why this has gone on as long as it has.

BALDWIN: I was talking to a Coast Guard wife yesterday. February 1 is doomsday for so many of these workers, whether their wives of Coast Guards, federal workers, because that's when credit cards are up and eviction notices start showing up if you cannot make ends meet. Someone is going to have to give.

Elaina Plott, thank you so much, in Washington for us.

PLOTT: Thanks, Brooke. Also just in, Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley has made an official

request to the FBI to investigate if Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen committed perjury when she testified to Congress about the administration's family separation policy regarding migrants at the border. All of this is coming after CNN reporting that showed Trump officials looking into the policy to separate children from their parents in late 2017.

Let's go to Nick Valencia, who cover this had for many weeks.

Nick, what specifically is Senator Merkley expressing his concern about?

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This is really big news. Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley calling on the FBI to investigate whether or not Nielsen committed perjury in her testimony before Congress in December of 2018. And he says there's compelling new evidence that high-level Department of Homeland Security officials were secretly and actively developing a new policy for a legal framework separating families as far back as December 2017. If you remember, when she testified before Congress in December of 2018, she stated that she was not a liar, that no such policy existed. This is the evidence that Merkley is pointing to -- if we want to bring it up on the screen. It's a memo drafted by high-level senior officials in the Department of Homeland Security as well as Department of Justice, which shows, Brooke, that the Trump administration was drafting policy months, and far earlier than we knew to separate families.

[14:35:43] Merkley tweeted at the president about the shutdown saying this is something that he deliberately created by using children, migrant children crossing the border, many of them looking for asylum, using them as political pawns rather than dealing with them or looking at them as vulnerable human beings.

This comes less than a day of another report, Brooke, from the office of the inspector general, HHS, saying the Trump administration has no idea how many children that they separated under their zero-tolerance policy. It's potentially that thousands of others that the government didn't know about that were separated during that time -- Brooke?

BALDWIN: Nick Valencia, thank you so much for jumping on --

VALENCIA: You bet.

BALDWIN: -- and getting us that news. It is significant, you are right.

Coming up next, today's news about Michael Cohen tops off an astonishing week of developments in the Russia investigation. Does it mean that the Mueller investigation is anywhere near closing? David Axelrod joins me to talk about what's ahead.


[14:40:45] BALDWIN: This week is turning into another huge week in the Russia investigation. The latest development coming in a stunning new report today. "BuzzFeed" reporting that President Trump personally instructed his former lawyer, Michael Cohen, to lie to Congress about the Trump Tower project in Moscow. CNN has not confirmed this "BuzzFeed" report.

But the president and his personal attorney, currently, Rudy Giuliani, are denying this report and have attacked the credibility of Michael Cohen. This comes after Giuliani raises questions about his own credibility after making the staggering admission that maybe, just maybe, somebody in the Trump campaign other than the president colluded with Russia.

That news followed a report in the "Wall Street Journal," that Cohen also admitted to hiring a firm during the campaign of this I.T. official to rig online polling at the direction of and the sole benefit of Trump.

So with me now David Axelrod, former adviser to President Obama, CNN senior political commentator, host of "THE AXE FILES" with David Axelrod.

David --



BALDWIN: You know, just another Friday in the news biz. You read this whole thing. What's your -- if true, this could be the smoking gun, is what I'm hearing from lawyers. What's your biggest takeaway?

AXELROD: I think the if true is very important. No one's really followed this reporting yet and we don't know what's true or what's not. I think it makes for one hell of a show and Michael Cohen comes before Congress on February 7th. This is going to be item number one when the questioning begins. But, yes, if there's proof beyond Michael Cohen's allegation that the president directed him to do these things and there are witnesses as was suggested in the "BuzzFeed" piece, then this is very, very serious. And I mean, think about it. If the president of the United States directed someone to lie to the Congress, what is Congress to do with that? I think Jerry Nadler, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, was right to say we are going to look -- take a thorough look at this without jumping to the next stage, but if this turns out to be true, the next stage could very well be impeachment.

BALDWIN: Yes. Circle February 7th on everyone's calendars in red because we'll all be -- we'll all be tuning in to the Michael Cohen testimony.

In the meantime, another huge story has dropped regarding North Korea and the president of the United States. So just a bit ago, President Trump met with North Korea's top envoy at the White House today where they discussed a second summit, which we're hearing will take place near the end of February. I should remind everyone this top envoy is a former spy chief. This is the same guy who hand delivered that big envelope to Trump last summer with this letter from Kim Jong-Un. Do you think they deserve a second summit? Do you think that North Korea is just totally playing this president?

ALEXROD: You know, it's hard to say. First of all, let's just stipulate that it's better to be talking than not talking, talks are better than war where we seem to be headed for some time before this bromance broke out, but, you know, what exactly do we get out of the last summit? We gave Kim Jong-Un what the North Koreans have craved for generations which is a spot on the world stage. We froze exercises with the South Koreans which is something the North Koreans desperately wanted. They say they've stopped testing but there's some evidence that they didn't really need to be testing and that they're proceeding at pace and manufacturing weapons. It's not exactly clear what that first summit proud from the standpoint of the United States. It is theater and the president loves theater. And right now, he needs some theater other than the drama that is taking place in Washington. I can understand why he would want it. But generally you want some fixed notion going into these things about what's achievable. That wasn't the case in the last summit and it's not at all clear that that's going to be the case going into this one.

[14:45:09] BALDWIN: I hear you on it's better to be talking than war, of course. But what do you make of this North Korean envoy back at the White House? Is this an example of keeping your enemies too close?

AXELROD: Well, you know, what's peculiar about this whole thing, they keep delivering letters to president and the president, he displays them to visitors, apparently, you know, like one would, you know --


BALDWIN: Like a souvenir.

AXELROD: Yes, exactly. Displaying a letter from his girlfriend at summer camp. And it is -- it's really, really odd. And you do get a sense that Kim Jong-Un has a real beat on the president of the United States and is playing him, but --


BALDWIN: Who does that remind you of?

AXELROD: Yes. Exactly. If it does produce some tangible and verifiable progress on denuclearization, then we can say, yes, something valuable has been achieved. Otherwise, this is just some weird relationship among the many that the president has with despots around the world.

BALDWIN: On Russia, I know you spoke with the former secretary of state, John Kerry. He had a lot to say. It was Putin that came to my mind when you were talking about Kim Jong-Un.

AXELROD: Yes, of course.

BALDWIN: You had this conversation about their unique relationship. Let's watch a clip.


JOHN KERRY, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: President Trump stood beside President Putin in Helsinki, feel away from him, like we are, and literally renounced the consensus opinion of the entire security Intelligence Community of the United States and of other countries and took Putin's side on the subject.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today.

KERRY: I think it's because the Russians clearly -- he has some special relationship with them and it's not made public. I think he's fearful that President Putin has information on him. I know from my trips to Russia, everything you do and say is being listened to and is being followed. While Donald Trump was pursuing the Miss Universe contest and Trump Towers in Moscow and visiting, I have no doubt that whatever activities he was engaged in -- I don't know what they all were -- but I do know from Intelligence Community personnel that I've talked to that there's huge credibility within the intel community to the so-called Steele dossier and to many of that.


BALDWIN: Just quickly, David, does Secretary Kerry think that Putin has something on Trump?

AXELROD: He sure inferred that. He implied that when I asked him directly. So, yes, I think he believes that and he has a lot more to say about the president and where we are in the world. It was a great conversation.

BALDWIN: We can't wait to tune in.

David Axelrod, thank you.

We'll be watching the interview tomorrow, 7:00 p.m. Eastern, here on CNN. "THE AXE FILES," Saturday night on CNN.

David Axelrod, always a pleasure. Thank you, thank you.

Still ahead, if it's true, the "BuzzFeed" report brings President Trump's family under serious scrutiny. Ivanka Trump, Don Jr both mentioned. The accusations hitting so close to home for the president, how might he be responding to that?


[14:53:06:] BALDWIN: Next question on all this news today, how much do Trump's children know and when did they know it? The role of Ivanka and Don Jr is front and center amid the latest "BuzzFeed" reporting, and how much did they know about this Moscow Trump Tower Project. "BuzzFeed" reports these siblings received regular, detailed updates from Michael Cohen about the negotiations, something Ivanka Trump has denied. CNN has not corroborated the "BuzzFeed" report.

But Ivanka Trump's attorney did issue a statement: "Mrs. Trump did not know about this proposal until after a nonbinding letter of intent had been signed, never talked to anyone outside the organization about the proposal, never visited the perspective project site, and even internally was only minimally involved."

CNN did not receive a response from Don Jr, nor from Cohen. But we do know in 2017, Trump -- Don Jr told lawmakers he was aware of the project but was not involved.

With me now is Michael D'Antonio, the Trump biographer, who wrote, "The Truth about Trump." And Michael is also a CNN contributor.

Michael D'Antonio, a pleasure to have you back.


BALDWIN: You know this man better than most. You know how President Trump ran his family business and how involved his grown children were. How much do you think Don Jr and Ivanka know?

MICHAEL D'ANTONIO, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I think they knew everything and I think they knew it all along. It's important to note that Michael Cohen was their lawyer as well. He always took care of problems for them, he always kept them informed of what was going on in the business and so did the president. There really wasn't anything that wasn't shared in this group of executives. It was a very small operation. When I spoke to Don Jr and Eric and Ivanka, they said to me that they were all involved in every project, so whether it was a golf course development or business proposal or effort to build the Trump Tower, everyone had their hand in so that someone could fill in at a moment's notice and take over the project.

[14:55:28] BALDWIN: But so then how do you reconcile what you're saying with what the statement that we have from Ivanka Trump's person today, Don Jr when he testified at Congress that he had peripheral knowledge although they think he lied about that. How do you square that?

D'ANTONIO: There's also a family tradition of speaking very carefully so that you can appear to deny knowledge of something without actually coming forth and saying, I absolutely had no contact. If Ivanka Trump, for example, is saying that she had no discussions outside of the office, that doesn't mean that she wasn't involved in every conference to consider the next steps. So she was aware. Especially, Don Jr was aware. The irony in all of this is that Eric Trump and tiffany Trump are the two of the younger generation who may be outside of consideration for this problem because they weren't as favored by the president.

BALDWIN: Michael D'Antonio, to be continued.

Thank you very, very much.

More on this developing story. The White House saying they will hold a second summit with North Korea at the end of the February. More on that coming up.