Return to Transcripts main page

CNN NEWSROOM

Did Trump Endanger Democrats By Leaking Afghanistan Trip?; Trump and North Korean Leader Set for Second Summit; Did Trump Direct Cohen to Lie to Congress?. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired January 18, 2019 - 15:00   ET

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


[15:00:58]

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: You are watching CNN on this Friday afternoon. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

A giant news story from BuzzFeed News today involving President Trump, Michael Cohen, and an explosive claim that Trump told him to lie to Congress.

If true -- important caveat -- if two, here's two words that we're going to be learning today, suborning perjury.

So let me just first stress that CNN has not independently confirmed this reporting. That being said, suborning perjury, it's basically a fancy legal way of saying encouraging someone to lie. Not only is it a crime. It was also part of the articles of impeachment against both Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton.

And, of course, we're old enough to go way back to 2016 and remember what then candidate Trump said during one of this presidential debates.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I know nothing about Russia. I know -- I know about Russia, but I know nothing about the inner workings of Russia. I don't deal there. I have no businesses there. I have no loans from Russia.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: And now the White House press secretary, Sarah Sanders, just walked out to some microphones outside the White House, and she is commenting on the story.

Let's listen in.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Categorically false.

QUESTION: What about the polls? Did he direct him to rig any polls? HUCKABEE SANDERS: Look, I think -- again, I think that that one

statement, those two words sum it up better than anything anybody else can say. And that is categorically false.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) State of the Union?

HUCKABEE SANDERS: We will keep you posted. Look, as the president has done every single day since he's gotten into office, he's going to continue to communicate directly with the American people, whether it's speeches across the country, through social media, through taking questions from you guys, and we will continue to do that, whether it's on Capitol Hill or elsewhere.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: On North Korea, why should the president believe anything that comes out...

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: ... representative of North Korea, considering, after the last summit, the denuclearization that was promised did not and has not happened?

HUCKABEE SANDERS: Look, we have continued to make progress. We're continuing to have conversations.

The United States is going to continue to keep pressure and sanctions on North Korea, until we see fully and verified denuclearization. We have had very good steps in good faith from the North Koreans in releasing the hostages and other moves.

And so we're going to continue those conversations. And the president looks forward to his next meeting.

(CROSSTALK)

HUCKABEE SANDERS: Sorry.

Steve, go ahead.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

HUCKABEE SANDERS: Again, they had -- as I put out earlier, just a little bit ago, the president had about an hour-and-a-half-long meeting.

There was a U.S. delegation, which we will send out those specific names here shortly. I can tell you Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was in the room, as well several others from the president's team. It was productive. And they're going to continue those conversations. And the president looks forward...

(CROSSTALK) QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

HUCKABEE SANDERS: The president is in regular...

(CROSSTALK)

HUCKABEE SANDERS: Sorry.

The president is in regular contact with a number of world leaders. As he has those discussions, we will be sure we put those readouts out.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: There's some concern among the Democrats that, if the shutdown isn't -- isn't wrapped up by the Super Bowl, that there could be some security concerns with the Super Bowl.

Does the president hold those concerns as well?

HUCKABEE SANDERS: I think, if the Democrats have those type of concerns, then they should sit down at the table and negotiate with the president.

We have got an offer on the table. We have made it clear that we'd like to make a deal. We want to get something done. The president wants to open the government as well. But he also wants to make sure that we're protecting American citizens, and we have to secure our border in order to do that.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: Does he -- is there any urgency, considering that government officials, workers could miss a second paycheck?

(CROSSTALK)

HUCKABEE SANDERS: Absolutely. That's one of the key reasons that the president did not want Speaker Pelosi to leave the country, is because, if she did, it would all but guarantee the fact that the negotiations couldn't take place over the weekend and federal workers, 800,000 federal workers, wouldn't receive their paychecks because she wasn't here to help make a deal.

[15:05:00]

QUESTION: The president looked like he might compromise on the budget and sign a C.R. originally. And then, of course, we heard from Ann Coulter and from Rush Limbaugh.

Why is he not willing to go back to where he was in the beginning, or is he?

HUCKABEE SANDERS: The president's laid out what he wants.

We sent a detailed letter from the Office of Management and Budget to Congress. And we have had a number of discussions discussing what we're looking for.

We haven't backed down from that and we haven't changed our position on it.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: Will the president still be delivering a speech on January the 29th, as he planned to?

HUCKABEE SANDERS: We will certainly keep you posted on that front.

(CROSSTALK)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: OK, so there you have it on shutdown, on the BuzzFeed story, on whether or not the president will be delivering the State of the Union there on the date of January 29.

Let's go to Kara Scannell. She covers all things Washington for us.

And, so, it was the first bit of the clip where we heard Sarah Sanders questioned for comment on this BuzzFeed story that we have been covering. And the two words I heard were, it was categorically false.

So, before we dive in, let me just remind everyone watching CNN hasn't confirmed any of BuzzFeed's reporting. But you hear the White House saying categorically false. You hear the president, you hear Rudy Giuliani calling Michael Cohen a liar.

But, Kara, there are similarities between this piece of reporting from BuzzFeed and Mueller's court records on Cohen. So go through all of that for me.

KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Brooke. I mean, we have not corroborated any of BuzzFeed's reporting.

But what they do say in their story, citing two law enforcement officials, is that Michael Cohen was essentially confronted by the special counsel's office with information from witness testimony, from documents, and from text messages that corroborated, according to BuzzFeed, that Michael Cohen said or was directed by Donald Trump to lie in his response to Congress when he testified about the length and the time and Trump's involvement in negotiations and discussions to build a Trump Tower in Moscow during the campaign.

And so what we can pull and we look at from court filings from a filing by the special counsel's office, they actually say that the information provided by Cohen about the Moscow project in these proffer sessions is consistent with and corroborated by other information obtained in the course of the special counsel's investigation.

So there's a pairing there of what BuzzFeed is reporting, where they're saying that there was other information that was actually used to confront Michael Cohen. And another area that we can point to where we see some similarities here is, BuzzFeed is reporting that Michael Cohen talked to Donald Trump about this project about 10 times.

Now, Michael Cohen had lied to Congress about that, saying that it was, you know, very short conversations, minimal. But BuzzFeed is saying that, according to their sources, that Cohen spoke to him 10 times.

When we look at another court filing that was part of the charges against Michael Cohen, we see there that the special counsel's office is saying that Cohen discuss the status and progress of the Moscow project with Individual 1 -- that's Donald Trump -- on more than the three occasions Cohen claimed to the committee.

So while we have not independently verified BuzzFeed's reporting, when you line it up next to some of the court filings, you can see the similarities that don't make it seem entirely out of left field.

But nothing in the court filings actually corroborates that Donald Trump directed Michael Cohen to lie. That is still BuzzFeed's reporting, based on their law enforcement sources, Brooke.

BALDWIN: Got it. Kara, thank you very much, Kara Scannell.

And, as you might expect, I mentioned Rudy Giuliani's coming out swinging. He's saying -- quote -- "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 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 an effort to reduce his sentence."

That is quite a change from a year ago, when Rudy Giuliani praised Michael Cohen as -- his words -- an honest, honorable lawyer.

So let's start there.

Asha Rangappa is with me, former FBI special agent. Garrett Graff is back, author of "The Threat Matrix: The FBI at War."

Let me just quickly hit you both off the top, Asha, first to you.

If this reporting is true, is this a smoking gun?

ASHA RANGAPPA, CNN LEGAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: A smocking gun? Yes, it is.

(LAUGHTER)

BALDWIN: Smoking gun.

RANGAPPA: Well, look, it's a discrete crime that we know from past practice and history is an impeachable offense. So it's not necessarily a smoking gun for collusion by Trump with Russia, though, let's remember, the underlying lie was about his dealings with Russia for the Trump Tower Moscow.

BALDWIN: Yes.

RANGAPPA: But it's in some ways a bigger problem, because this can't be spun as part of the Russia hoax. This is its own crime.

[15:10:01]

It's about impeding Congress' legitimate oversight functions, and really interfering with the checks and balances in our structure of government, which means that Congress has to take it seriously, as an institution, regardless of how they might feel politically about the Russia investigation itself.

BALDWIN: Garrett, what about you? How big is this?

GARRETT GRAFF, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I very much agree with Asha. This a is a potentially very big development, and actually for some of the same reasons that Asha just laid out.

The fact that this is separate from the underlying questions of what actually happened with Russia points to, I think, one of the things that we have seen sort of bread crumbs of in many of these court filings, which is that Bob Mueller -- we think of the Bob Mueller obstruction probe as this binary question of, did the president -- did the president correctly fire Jim Comey, which gets into all sorts of complicated questions about executive power and Article 2 authorities, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

What this points to, though, is the idea of an obstruction case that is larger and more consistent, and instead a pattern of behavior that begins during the campaign, continues through the transition -- think Michael Flynn -- and then continues into the White House.

And so that's an obstruction of justice case, that's a conspiracy case, that's a suborning perjury from witnesses case that doesn't hang on any single piece of evidence, but instead is a total indictment of a pattern of behavior that stretches over more than three years.

BALDWIN: What -- Trump has disavowed all knowledge, most importantly, any business ties to Russia during the campaign, Asha.

Behind the scenes, he was reportedly working to cover up his involvement. Might this be the classic case of the cover-up is worse than the crime?

RANGAPPA: Well, the cover up is definitely bad, but, Brooke, I have to ask the question, why cover it up?

BALDWIN: If you're doing nothing wrong.

RANGAPPA: I mean, when Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to lying to Congress, the response was, I'm -- I was a private businessman. I can have business dealings with Russia.

Then why not say that from the beginning? There is something about this relationship that -- the things that were leading up to it that he doesn't want discovered. And it's kind of -- it goes back to this idea of wanting to limit the probe.

So I think definitely the cover-up is bad. It's a separate offense. Whether it's worse than the crime, we have yet to find out, depending on Mueller's findings.

BALDWIN: And then, Garrett, you were talking about obstruction, and just reading what you wrote today, and just reminding everyone, your words, Mueller has the receipts. Mueller's investigators aren't just taking Cohen's word for it, which is important to remember when you hear Giuliani and Trump saying, he's a liar, right?

It's not just about what Cohen is saying. It's the Mueller team that can back this up. And if that is the case, is that not, like, mainstream obstruction?

GRAFF: Very much so.

And, remember, the way that BuzzFeed talked about this in their piece is not that Michael Cohen came out and told them this, but that, in fact, Michael Cohen was backed into a corner, where the special counsel, the federal prosecutors had documents, they had testimony from other Trump Organization witnesses.

Remember, the chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg, was granted immunity back in August and has been cooperating with investigators ever since, that they basically figured this out before they ever talked to Michael Cohen, and then went and asked Michael Cohen whether it was true.

That's a very different fact pattern, a very different set of circumstances than just sort of sitting here and being like, oh, well, Michael Cohen told us this.

BALDWIN: Totally. Totally.

Garrett and Asha, thank you, guys, so very much on that and reacting to the BuzzFeed reporting.

We're also following other developments in the White House, where President Trump and North Korea's top negotiator have just discussed having a second summit next month, the second summit between Trump and Kim -- so, details from the Oval Office coming up.

Also, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi putting the blame squarely on the president for making a congressional trip to Afghanistan public, her trip with her congressional delegation, forcing them to cancel for safety reasons. We're live on Capitol Hill for this tit for tat, as the shutdown continues.

Meantime, federal employees in Atlanta had to line up to get food bank donations today to try to make ends meet. One TSA worker with three kids says the situation is getting dire.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) TOYA CONHAM, UNPAID TSA EMPLOYEE: This is the second pay period. I don't think -- after this, I don't know what I'm going to do. I don't even know. I'm -- I don't have an answer. I'm in limbo.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:19:37]

BALDWIN: A second summit will happen toward the end of next month, this news following a face-to-face meeting between President Trump and North Korea's top nuclear negotiator, Kim Yong-chol.

The two just wrapped up a private meeting that lasted, we're told, 90 minutes at the White House and included handing over to Trump the second letter from Kim. This North Korean who was at the White House today is a former spy chief.

[15:20:01]

And the last time he and Trump met at the Oval was last summer. That is when he delivered Kim Jong-un's first letter to the president. Kim Yong-chol also met with the secretary of state, Mike Pompeo.

So, with me now, CNN's Will Ripley, who's been to North Korea so many times, I think I have lost count. He's live for us now in Tokyo.

And so, Will, let's just start with this meeting, the significance of this meeting and anything we know about this second summit.

WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I mean, this was supposed to be a courtesy call, Brooke, in the Oval Office, a quick meet-and-greet with Kim Yong-chol and President Trump.

And the fact that it lasted 90 minutes just goes to show you, one, the North Koreans went to Washington because they wanted to meet with Trump. Yes, they met with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. But Kim and Pompeo have had a rocky relationship.

Over the summer, Pompeo went to Pyongyang. They had a disastrous meeting. Pompeo leaves. And then, a couple of hours later, he's being accused in North Korean state media of making gangster-like demands. But the North Koreans have been lavishing praise on President Trump, even as the rhetorical escalation of tensions has occurred, as these denuclearization talks have broken down, because, Brooke, the North Koreans think that the best deal they're going to get is with President Trump directly.

BALDWIN: In the wake of that first summit, though, in Singapore, what -- of all the promises made, how about promises kept? Why does North Korea deserve a second summit?

RIPLEY: Well, there were no promises made. They signed this vaguely worded statement. North Korea walked away, Kim Jong-un walked away thinking that the

U.S. was going to lift sanctions. President Trump walked away thinking that Kim was going to give up all his nukes. Neither side has done that. And so you have this stalemate.

The question that I have is, are they now closer together? Did they talk in the Oval Office about a compromise, maybe North Korea being transparent, starting the process of denuclearization, in exchange for step-by-step lifting of sanctions? Both sides have really taken a hard line on that. But this second summit isn't going to go anywhere if both sides aren't willing to budge.

BALDWIN: How do you explain this fascination nation of Kim Jong-un by the president of United States? I mean, to quote David Axelrod, he said to me, Brooke, listen, it's better that they're talking than war.

But, still, what do you make of it?

RIPLEY: I mean, the fact that, over a year ago, they were insulting each other, President Trump was insulting Kim Jong-un on Twitter, and now they're writing each other these glowing, gushing letters, and President Trump is spending a lot more time talking to the North Koreans than he is with the Democrats about the shutdown, it's just -- it's extraordinary.

It's surreal. But this is the world that we live in. And all I can say is that the North Koreans studied President Trump very closely for a long time before they ever got in the same room with him. And they realize that the way to get something from President Trump is to lavish him with praise, tell him what he wants to hear.

But yet, when you look at what actions have actually happened on the ground, a lot of analysts are telling me North Korea probably has more nuclear weapons today than they did at the beginning of the diplomatic process, because U.S. intelligence has watched them expand their missile bases.

The Pentagon just put out this new missile defense strategy, calling North Korea an extraordinary threat to the United States. And yet their former spy chief, who was believed to be responsible for sinking a South Korean naval ship, got 90 minutes in the Oval Office today.

BALDWIN: What a difference a year has made.

Will Ripley, joining us early on his Saturday morning there in Tokyo, thank you so much, Will.

Back to our top story, this stunning report from BuzzFeed News that President Trump ordered Michael Cohen to lie to Congress about his talks with Russians about a real estate project in Moscow.

Now, the White House saying this is categorically false. We're live on the campaign trail, as potential 2020 contenders respond to the news.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [15:28:23]

BALDWIN: The longest government shutdown in U.S. history has now reached day 28, and the battle over the border wall has spawned a more personal fight between President Trump and Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Today, she leveled a huge accusation at the White House. And this all comes one day after the president blocked this congressional delegation that she was leading, their trip to Afghanistan. He pulled the military plane.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: We have the prerogative to travel commercial. 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 a report from Afghanistan that the president outing our trip had made the scene on the ground much more dangerous.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: Let's go to our congressional correspondent, Phil Mattingly, there up on the hill.

And hearing that from Speaker Pelosi today, those allegations, that's significant, Phil.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, look, the security concerns are real, and the precautions that lawmakers and the president take when they're going into conflict zones are also real.

You remember, when the president went to Iraq near the beginning of the shutdown. Reporters were with him. They are under strict kind of guidelines not to report that the president is going there. And no public announcement is made usually until he lands or after he might even be gone in the air.

And that's the same with congressional delegations. We, as congressional reporters, find out about them sometimes. If they're going to conflict zones, we don't report on them because of security reasons.

Now, the broader allegation, perhaps the bigger allegation, is that the White House, after the president's letter and the pulling of the military jet, Speaker Pelosi said she was trying to find a way to use a commercial plane, to go commercially with the delegation, and the White House knew about that and leaked that to several news organizations.