Return to Transcripts main page


Trump Directed Cohen to Lie; Trump's Response to BuzzFeed Article; Trump's Moscow Tower Project; Interview with Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL). Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired January 18, 2019 - 13:00   ET


[13:00:00] KAROUN DEMIRJIAN, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Criticize and they should expect --

OLIVIER KNOX, CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, SIRIUS XM: But also this is criticism -- this is criticism of the Pence's doing this. It's not actually a blanket criticism of prison education.

JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Everything is fair debate. We live in a democracy.

Thanks for joining us today on INSIDE POLITICS. Hope you have a great weekend. Hope to see you Sunday morning. Brianna Keilar starts right now.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Brianna Keilar, live from CNN's Washington headquarters.

Underway right now, we begin with a stunning report that, if true, raises serious new questions about possible obstruction of justice by President Trump. According to this "BuzzFeed" report, then-candidate Donald Trump directed his long-time attorney, Michael Cohen, to lie to Congress under oath about negotiations to build a Trump Tower in Moscow. And this report cites two federal law enforcement officials involved in investigating the matter. Important to note, CNN has not corroborated this "BuzzFeed" report.

Cohen has admitted that he falsely told lawmakers that talks about the Moscow project ended months earlier than they actually did. "BuzzFeed" says, according to its sources, the president personally instructed Cohen to lie.

CNN justice correspondent Jessica Schneider has more on this reporting.

So walk us through what we need to know about this report.

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Brianna, this is an explosive report with several significant revelations all attributed to two law enforcement officials to back it up. So first, the president reportedly supported a plan that was spearheaded by Michael Cohen to visit Russia during the presidential campaign and even for Donald Trump to personally meet with Vladimir Putin. This, of course, would all be start of that -- a start to that effort to jump-start the Trump Tower Moscow negotiations. Now, "BuzzFeed" even says that then-candidate Donald Trump told

Michael Cohen, quote, make it happen, which, of course, it never actually did. In addition, this report also describes how intricately Donald Trump was involved in these Trump Tower Moscow negotiations that did stretch through at least June 2016 after Trump secured the Republican nomination. BuzzFeed now reporting law enforcement sources saying that Trump had ten face-to-face meetings with Michael Cohen to discuss this project throughout the campaign.

And then, of course, the biggest bombshell, that the president directed Michael Cohen to lie to Congress about the negotiations to build Trump Tower Moscow and the fact that those talks stretched well into the campaign.

And while the president has repeatedly pointed to Michael Cohen as a liar, including in tweets this morning, it does appear that Mueller's office isn't just relying on Cohen's words. BuzzFeed putting it this way, saying 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 in internal company e- mails, text messages and a cache of other documents.

And that fact is prompting a huge Democratic outcry. Some even resurfacing the idea of impeachment. And Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, Brianna, saying an indictment shouldn't necessarily be off the table.

KEILAR: Jessica Schneider, thank you for walking us through that.

Now, the president's attorney, Rudy Giuliani, responded to the report by attacking Michael Cohen's credibility. This is the statement that was released a short time ago also denying it. It says 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.

Our Abby Phillip is at the White House for us.

What about the president? How is he responding to this potential bombshell, Abby?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brianna, we heard from President Trump about this. It seems, based on his Twitter feed this morning, when he quoted a Fox News report, but then, at the end of it, he tacked on this comment about Michael Cohen, saying that he was lying to reduce his jail time. And he also suggested watching Cohen's father-in-law, who the president has been talking about for some time, suggesting that his father-in-law ought to be investigated.

Now, we should keep in mind here that the president has been trying to undermine Michael Cohen for some time now, but that has escalated in recent weeks, especially after Michael Cohen agreed to testify publicly in Congress about all of the things that he pled guilty to in criminal court over the last year.

But this morning the White House, in addition to undermining Cohen's credibility, would not necessarily directly address the "BuzzFeed" story. Deputy Press Secretary Hogan Gidley was on Fox News this morning and was asked directly multiple times, and here's what he had to say.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're saying the president did not tell Michael Cohen to do that?

HOGAN GIDLEY, WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: I'm telling you right now this is exactly why the president refuses to give any credence or credibility to news outlets because they have no ability to corroborate anything they're putting out there. Instead, they're just using innuendo and shady sources --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, that was not a -- that was not a denial of my question.

[13:05:03] GIDLEY: No, the -- but the premise is ridiculous.


PHILLIP: Now, that statement that you just read from Rudy Giuliani came hours after Gidley's appearance and it seems to be a change of course. The president's attorney is now categorically denying this story, but the dissidence between those two statements really show how the White House is still trying to figure out how to address this story, which is incredibly damaging to President Trump, basically alleging that he committed a crime.

KEILAR: All right, Abby Phillip at the White House, thanks.

Now, some Democrats are openly talking about possible impeachment if this "BuzzFeed" story is true. At the very least, they're promising to investigate whether President Trump obstructed justice.

And we have former House Intelligence Chairman Mike Rogers with us. He's a CNN national security commentator. Senior fellow at the Center for New American Security, Carrie Cordero, she's a CNN legal analyst. And we have our chief political analyst Gloria Borger with us.

This is -- this is significant, Gloria. And I know to people who I think on the outside are looking at the Mueller investigation and the peripheral investigations that are related to similar things, it becomes this kind of drip, drip, drip and they wonder, is this a significant day today, is this a significant thing? Well, if true, this is a significant thing, right, because this is the first time, instance, that we the public know about President Trump directing someone to lie under oath to conceal interactions with Russia.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Sure. And again, if true -- and we ought to point out that CNN has not independently confirmed this story. That, if true, this would be, according to the president's attorney general designate, Bill Barr, this would be a clear case of obstruction of justice, trying to find -- trying to direct somebody to lie. So we don't know at this point independently whether it is, but what

we do know from court filings is that Cohen has said he interacted with White House-based staff before he testified, and that he did follow the political messaging of the president of the United States in order to protect the president. That is -- that is what we know.

This takes it from court filings. This takes it, of course, a huge leap further, which is that he direct -- the president was directing him, and I would presume it's without the knowledge of all the other lawyers who were involved in drafting his statements before Congress. You'd have to presume that. So we have to kind of try and wait until we can unspool this story to figure out where it -- where it is.

KEILAR: You mentioned the president's AG pick, William Barr, testifying before Congress. We actually have -- we have a couple of sound bites from his hearing, exchanges that he had, one with a Democratic senator, one with a Republican, about this kind of thing. Let's listen.


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?

BILL BARR, ATTORNEY GENERAL NOMINEE: Yes, under that -- yes, an obstruction statute, yes.

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D), MINNESOTA: You wrote on page one that a president persuading a person to commit perjury would be obstruction, is that right?

BARR: Yes.


KEILAR: Carrie, when you look at Bill Barr saying that, why is this report, if true, something that this could be a game changer?

CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, because this particular allegation that's being alleged in the "BuzzFeed" article accuses the president of basically committing obstruction, of directing an individual, Michael Cohen, to provide false testimony to Congress. So even under the theory that Attorney General Barr has explained in the memo that he had sent to the Justice Department even before he was nominated, this type of obstruction would not be something that would fall under any kind of presidential power that could take it out of criminal realm. It really would be a violation of the statutes.

I would suspect that the attorney general nominee would believe that the appropriate remedy for that would be impeachment, not prosecution. But it certainly falls under obstruction.

KEILAR: And can you speak to that, Mike, because as -- you're the former chairman of the House Intel Committee. So that is the committee, not obviously while you were overseeing it, but that is the committee that Michael Cohen is said to have lied to when he testified. And there's also this question of, what is Congress going to do, because there's been some reticence on the part of Democrats to jump on that impeachment bandwagon. What do you think?

MIKE ROGERS, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY COMMENTATOR: I think they shouldn't be too quick on this. A, from -- there's two problems here, a political problem for the president and a legal problem. And the legal problem is a little less clear to me. The sourcing of this information, I'm a little skeptical of, that wasn't -- people who were involved in the investigation, it was one tier out, number one. And you're dealing with somebody who has made it very clear he is willing to lie in order -- or at least embellish his value. He was out running around the track trying to say somebody from the Mueller campaign should -- or the special counsel should come talk to me. And part of the U.S. prosecutors in New York said he was lying and he should get jail time. He wasn't fully cooperative.

[13:10:18] So it gets really messy when you're saying, is this a credible story with a credible witness against an impeachment charge? They would have to have documentation. Just the word and the -- and the, you know, the wink-wink, nudge-nudge testimony is not going to work.


ROGERS: The big thing here is, politically, certainly this feeds the narrative. It's going to get -- those who wanted impeachment charged up.

Secondly, you have another bad problem for the president happening this week. Chris Christie is running around the country for the next two weeks, and I don't know if you saw his "Politico" op-ed, but he -- it is fairly damning about the -- what kind of decision-making is being had with the people surrounding the president. And I just think that combination politically is going to be a very difficult week for him to get over.

KEILAR: Well, so let's talk politically and legally about the denial that we're seeing, because now we have Rudy Giuliani saying this is categorically false. But what struck me, Carrie, was initially, and because there's discussion about how President Trump's kids were involved in this deal, in this reporting, which we, yes, have not corroborated. Ivanka Trump came out with a statement and it basically says off the top like, dealing with the factual or non-factual nature of this story aside -- I'm paraphrasing -- but then she kind of gets in to say, she's had a very minimal role when it came to Trump Tower Moscow. She -- her statement from her spokesperson completely does not take the opportunity to refute the factual nature. Hogan Gidley, White House spokesperson, did not refute the factual nature. And Rudy Giuliani didn't come out right away and say that it was untrue.

What do you make of that? Let's talk -- let's talk legally.

CORDERO: So here's what I think -- well, let me start with factually, actually. Here's where I think we are actually eventually going to know the facts of it. The Senate Intelligence Committee chairman, Chairman Burr, said a

couple months ago in public statements that his committee has made multiple referrals to the special counsel's office regarding individuals who lied in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee in their Russia investigation. So it wasn't just Michael Cohen, it also was other individuals. And as that information makes its way through whatever is the special counsel's look at those particular cases, I think when we find out who those individuals are, it will reveal more about whether or not there was some kind of coordinated effort amongst the sort of inner circle around the president.

BORGER: Right. And just remember the context of all of this, which is that before Michael Cohen declared his independence from Donald Trump in early July, he was somebody -- and we've done a piece on this -- he was somebody who kind of expected and hoped that he was going to get a pardon from the president. And that he was in touch with administration officials, according to these court filings we know. We don't know who the administration officials were.

So, at this point in his life, he was kind of hopeful that, well, you know, I'm going to -- I'm going to be a good boy here. I'm going to protect the president, protect his messaging, protect all of that. And then, at a certain point, when he realized that that wasn't going to do him much good, he went off on his own. And so there are -- there are two Michael Cohens we are talking about. And the one who testified before Congress was the Michael Cohen who was being a good boy for Donald Trump.

KEILAR: And Michael Cohen -- now, it does seem that the Mueller investigation, which seems to have treated him more favorably, right, when we saw him in court, than the Southern District. They, obviously, kind of wanted to throw the book at him and didn't feel like he was cooperating. But do you think that -- do you think that even though there's this questionable, obviously, about Michael Cohen, it's questionable because we've seen him lie. But this is a story -- and we see the Mueller investigation where they're not relying on Michael Cohen's word. It appears they're relying on what he may -- he may say something but it's corroborated by evidence. If that is the case, what does this mean?

ROGERS: Well, if they can show that, in fact, the president had knowledge and suborn perjury to a committee in Congress, that is an obstruction of justice charge. There is no way around it. You can't -- and you -- I believe that would be grounds for impeachment.

If, in fact, that happened. But that's a big leap. I -- remember, from this report --


ROGERS: To proving that the president had knowledge and suborned perjury is a big leap. Could have somebody in the -- in his orbit have tried to do that? Maybe so. That still wouldn't put it on the president's feet. And that's really, really important here. That's why the documentation is so important. [13:15:09] But, remember, Cohen was very good at taking notes and making recordings. And so one of the things, of all of those boxes that FBI agents took out of his office, I'm going to guess that likely -- well, we know those are all in the hands of Mueller -- they are all fully reviewed. There's probably lots of clues in there if this, in fact, did happen. And they would need that corroborating evidence to stand up because, again, his testimony alone won't do it. He is a damaged -- he is a damaged witness.

KEILAR: It's a very -- it's a very, very good point.

Chairman, thank you so much, Carrie Cordero, Gloria Borger.

And Congress is going to hear directly from Michael Cohen in just a few days now. Up next, I'll be asking a House Intel Committee member about the latest Trump/Cohen news in that "BuzzFeed" report. If true, does this amount to a clear case of obstruction?

And later, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo welcomes North Korea's chief nuclear negotiator to Washington. What is in the letter that he's bringing from North Korea's leader to President Trump?


[13:20:30] KEILAR: Questions about whether President Trump obstructed justice are in the spotlight once again, and that's because of this explosive report by "BuzzFeed" that President Trump ordered his personal attorney to lie to Congress. It is important to note here that CNN has not corroborated the "BuzzFeed" story.

But the report is generating renewed interest in that project that attorney Michael Cohen had lied about, those plans to build a Trump Tower in Moscow.

CNN senior international correspondent Matthew Chance has details.


MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): For Trump it's always been about business. His business. His brand. His properties.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: People ask me, what does Trump stand for more than anything else? And if I used one word, it's always quality. Big windows, great fixtures, beautiful kitchens. Everything is going to be the best. And that's what it's all about.

CHANCE: And it was Trump, that property developer, who campaigned to be a Republican presidential candidate, juggling his business and political ambitions, which, inevitably, overlapped.

But by how much is only now coming to light. His former lawyer revealing negotiations to build a Trump Tower in Moscow went on much longer than previously admitted, until at least June 2016, after he essentially secured the nomination.

TRUMP: It was a well-known project. It was during the early part of '16 and I guess even before that.

I didn't do the project. I decided not to do the project. So I didn't do it. So we're not talking about doing a project.

IVANKA TRUMP, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S DAUGHTER: The Trump Organization likes to be ahead of the curve. We're always ahead of the curve. And this would be another example.

CHANCE: Ivanka Trump and her spa and fitness brand were also an integral part of the Moscow proposal. (INAUDIBLE) a letter of intent obtained by CNN, Trump's daughter would be given sole and absolute discretion to approve the spa designs. This was a Trump family affair.

But how much was the Kremlin also involved? Until this week, it insisted attempts by Trump associates to make contact over the Moscow tower had been ignored. The Kremlin's spokesman now admits his office called and asked why they wanted to have meetings with the presidential administration and explained that we have nothing to do with construction issues in the city of Moscow.

Matthew Chance, CNN, Moscow.


KEILAR: That is the Moscow story. The story today as reported by "BuzzFeed" is that the president of the United States directed his attorney Michael Cohen to lie about that project during testimony to Congress.

We have Democratic Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi with us. He is on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. He also was just named to the House Intelligence Committee.

And, sir, thanks so much for being with us.


KEILAR: I want to reiterate, CNN has not confirmed this "BuzzFeed" story, so that is why we are saying if true. If this story is right, if it got it right, is this obstruction of justice?

KRISHNAMOORTHI: It would be clearly obstruction of justice because subordination of perjury, basically getting someone else to lie, would be obstruction of justice.

KEILAR: In that case, would Congress have to move to impeach?

KRISHNAMOORTHI: I think, you know, basically it would rise to a high crime or misdemeanor, and, you know, I think that for a lot of people, that would be grounds for impeachment.

KEILAR: You're not ready to go that far?

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Well, I think getting from here to there obviously requires a lot of investigation. I'm a member of both the Intel and the Oversight Committees. I would expect and urge them to investigate this at the earliest, as maybe have other commentators have mentioned, there has to be corroboration for what has been alleged and -- but it's a very serious allegation nonetheless.

KEILAR: So the Oversight Committee, which you are on, as you just mentioned, is going to hear from Michael Cohen on February 7th.


KEILAR: And this is a hearing that's going to be public, so we're going to be seeing that. Part of it, if there is -- if there are, as we expect, some sensitive matters to be discussed, will be behind closed doors. Do you think that this -- what is in this report, questions that you would have about this report from Michael Cohen, is that something that he can talk about in the public portion?

[13:25:12] KRISHNAMOORTHI: Good question. I think that certainly anything that would border on classified material or would be classified material certainly could not be discussed in public. And -- but with regard to matters that are already in the public arena, or that are publicly known, I would urge that there be full transparency so that the public can hear Michael Cohen unplugged.

KEILAR: So if he were asked, did the president instruct you to lie to Congress, I mean presumably that is not a matter that is classified, right?

KRISHNAMOORTHI: I personally don't think so. On the other hand, I would want to know whether the material about which he was asked to lie is somehow classified. So we'd have to be very careful about the extent to which the questioning would proceed. We don't want to either interfere with the Mueller investigation or interfere with any other investigation being conducted by the House Intel Committee pertaining to classified information.

KEILAR: You were just appointed to the Intel Committee. And in October of 2017, before you were on it, Cohen testified before the intel committee. Those transcripts pretty much under lock and key, but have you been able to see them?

KRISHNAMOORTHI: I have not seen them yet, although I believe that there is a move afoot to release them so that the public can see what Michael Cohen and others said, to the extent that it's not classified material.

KEILAR: Have you been briefed on them? Do you have a sense of what he may have lied about and what you would want to ask about those lies?

KRISHNAMOORTHI: I have not specifically been briefed about that particular issue. But I will be asking very pointed questions of the Intel Committee staff and probably reviewing this transcript in the very near future.

KEILAR: All right, great. Well, we certainly welcome you back on the program. You are a part of integral committees when it comes to looking at all of this.

Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi, thank you so much.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Thank you. Thank you.

KEILAR: Now, straight ahead, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is going up against the president of the United States, battling over the government shutdown, foreign travel and his State of the Union Address. We'll have the latest on this clash of titans, next.