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Congress Moves to Condemn Chinese Persecution of Muslim Minorities; More Than Two Million Possibly Detained In Internment Camps; Dems Vow To Investigate BuzzFeed Report That Trump Directed Michael Cohen To Lie To Congress About Moscow Tower Project, Why? It's "Categorically False"; Dems to Investigate: Did Trump Direct Cohen To Lie To Congress?; Trump Slams Cohen's Father-In-Law As Dems Demand Probe Into BuzzFeed Report That Trump Told Cohen To Lie To Congress; NYT: People Close To Trump Leaded Pelosi's Commercial Flight Plans To Travel War Zone; Why? It's "A Flat Out Lie"; Interview with Congressman Dan Kildee of Michigan; Mueller Spokesperson is Disputing BuzzFeed Report that Trump Directed Cohen to Lie to Congress. Aired: 7-8p ET

Aired January 18, 2019 - 19:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, ANCHOR, CNN: Erin Burnett OutFront starts right now.

ERIN BURNETT, ANCHOR, CNN: OutFront next. Demanding answers, Democrats vowing to investigate the bombshell report that President Trump told his fixer to lie under oath. Plus, the President saying he's making a major announcement tomorrow about the shutdown, why. And why was Mike Pompeo's wife traveling with him on an official trip to the Middle East in the middle of a government shutdown. Let's go OutFront.

Good evening. I'm Erin Burnett, OutFront tonight, Democrats calling for an investigation into the explosive report that President Trump told Michael Cohen to lie under oath to Congress. BuzzFeed reporting the bombshell details, they are saying a reporter has seen documentation proving that the President committed a felony crime. The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and House Judiciary Committee tonight. And by the way, the Judiciary Committee is where impeachment proceedings would begin, are now both calling for investigations.

And the White House response to the bombshell report was deeply disturbing. They took 16 hours to unequivocally refute it.

SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: That's absolutely ridiculous. I think that the President's outside counsel addressed this best and said in a statement earlier today it's categorically false.

BURNETT: Okay. This was, again, 16 hours after BuzzFeed reported. That according to two law enforcement officials, Michael Cohen was instructed to lie by Donald Trump, specifically to tell Congress under oath that negotiations to build a Trump Tower in Moscow ended before the primaries which of course was blatantly false. They continued months after that. Now, to be clear, CNN has not independently confirmed BuzzFeed's

report, but it is the talk of the day and now there are congressional investigations about to start as a result. And if true, the report implicates the President in a federal crime. Up until Sanders categorical denial, 16 hours after that report, all we heard from the President and the White House were attacks on Michael Cohen himself, not denials of the facts but attacks on Cohen.

The president tweeting that Cohen is "lying" to reduce his jail time and from the White House this.


HOGAN GIDLEY, WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: I'm not going to give any credence or credibility to Michael Cohen who's a convicted felon and an admitted liar.


BURNETT: Now, according to BuzzFeed, Cohen is actually not the source of the allegations. They wrote "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." And the line is key, "Cohen then acknowledged those instructions during his interviews with that office." That is significant, right, they're saying Cohen then acknowledged, because if true it shows Mueller's team have the evidence that Trump told Cohen to lie all lined up and then they confronted Cohen.

So sure Cohen is a liar, everyone knows that. When Cohen was sentenced to prison, federal prosecutors made it clear they didn't trust him either. Again, they trusted other information they already had. They said, "The information Cohen provided was useful only to the extent that he corroborated information already known to the New York Attorney General." No one seems to be trusting Cohen. They seemed to be trusting other facts that are out there and tonight Democrats in Congress calling for investigations and those powerful chairman of those two committees are right now on the case. Abby Philip is out front live outside the White House.

And Abby, as you've got these investigations now, calls for investigations from Democrats into this bombshell report, the White House's response to the story seemed to shift throughout the day.

ABBY PHILLIP, CORRESPONDENT, CNN: There has been a notable evolution in how the White House has responded to this story, Erin. From this morning, it seemed that the strategy was simply to undermine Michael Cohen attack BuzzFeed news as more fake news and not even answer the underlying question about whether or not the President committed a federal crime. Now it appears that after many, many hours, the White House is following the lead of the President's personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, calling this report categorically false.

But I think in this effort to shift from attacking Cohen to denying the claim, you see White House who has been burned in the past by denying some of these stories only to have them be proven true and perhaps giving them more life, now one person we haven't really heard anything from his own mouth is President Trump. We didn't see him at all today, though we did hear from him on Twitter.

Tomorrow, however, the White House has announced that he is making an announcement on the government shutdown and on the border crisis. It's not clear what exactly he's going to say, but it is another opportunity for President Trump to retake the narrative here in the public eye.


Perhaps to take the upper hand over Nancy Pelosi, but also perhaps to get some other unsavory headlines about this Russia investigation out of the news but with the shutdown, that's a real question. President Trump remains with the power to end this shutdown at any moment, will he do that tomorrow, it's not clear and the White House won't say - they won't rule out the possibility that he might declare a national emergency. But White House officials won't say what more he's going to announce tomorrow afternoon at 3:00 p.m. here at the White House, Erin.

BURNETT: All right, Abby. Thank you very much. I mean a stunning week for this President, right, who earlier in the week was forced to directly say, "I am not an agent of the Russian government. I am not a Russian agent." I mean an absolutely stunning week with this capstone of this explosive report. Out front tonight, Democratic Congresswoman Val Demings who sits on the intelligence and judiciary committees. And Congressman, I appreciate your time, right, Chairman Schiff, Chairman Nadler, they want investigations into this report. What is going to happen now? How will your committee investigate?

VAL DEMINGS, DEMOCRATIC CONGRESSMAN OF UNITED STATES: Well, Erin, it's good to be with you tonight and let me just say this, as we know over the last two years we have really not provided the necessary oversight or demanded accountability as we should have. Other Republicans just refused when they were in charge to hold the White House, this administration or any of his enablers accountable.

But let me say this, the gavel is now in different hands and if the President of the United States directed his personal attorney to lie under oath to Congress, we are going to hold him accountable and that's exploring all of our options up to and including impeachment. I believe the American people have a right to know. We are a nation of laws and we are going to be relentless in our efforts to uncover the truth and get to the bottom of it.

BURNETT: Is it grounds for impeachment if your investigation shows that it happened, that the President directed Cohen to lie under oath to Congress, is that grounds for impeachment?

DEMINGS: If the President of the United States directed his personal attorney to lie under oath, I do believe that that rises to the level of impeachment. But impeachment may not be the main concern that the President of the United States should have, because we really have not answered the issue about whether a sitting president can be indicted. But what I can guarantee you is through the Judiciary Committee and the Intelligence Committee, we're going to hold the President accountable.

BURNETT: Do you think he can be indicted? Obviously, we talk about this for a normal citizen, something like a crime of this nature, right, it's a federal crime, it would result in jail time. Do you think he could be indicted?

DEMINGS: I'll tell you this. As a 27-year law enforcement officer and what we're talking about here is not some very simple minor violation of the law. We're talking about a serious felony. And what we do know is that there is absolutely nothing other than opinions that have been written to say that a sitting president cannot be indicted. What I do know is that this president, you all heard it, during his campaign say that he could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and not be held accountable or responsible for it. I believe the President is under estimating the American people. We are a nation of laws and we'll see what happens.

BURNETT: So, congresswoman, when these investigations, this calls for investigation tonight as you point out the gavel is in your hands, Democrat hands. Have you talked to your colleagues across the aisle, Republicans? Well they support this investigation into whether Cohen lied at Trump's direction?

DEMINGS: You know, Erin, let me just say this, if it is proven and I do believe if this is true, certainly the Special Counsel would have corroborating information. I know the president's personal attorney is trying to say that it's just Michael Cohen's word, but the personal attorney also said there was no collusion and then he said that he never said that. But I do believe there would be corroborating evidence and I believe my colleagues on the other side of the aisle when presented with the facts, the overwhelming evidence that may exist, it would leave them with no other choice but to support accountability.

BURNETT: Right. And as you point out, again, according to the report, one of the reporters, there's two, that are on it. One of them has seen independent corroboration; texts, emails, things that would prove this which they then obviously are saying they confronted Michael Cohen with it, that he obviously a known liar is not the source, they confronted with him after they had other sources. What do you make, Congressman, of the fact that the White House took 16 hours to refute this? I mean the people who were sent out to refute it are people who would have no idea whether it's true, Hogan Gidley among them, right? And yet he goes ahead and impugns Michael Cohen, why do you think it took them 16 hours to switch from making this about Michael Cohen to saying, "Oh, wait a minute, we're going to actually refute the whole thing."


DEMINGS: You know, Erin, that is really troubling. I mean just like when the President was asked the other day if he was basically a Russian spy and also now here we are talking about the President being directed to or directing someone or instructed someone to lie when they were under oath to Congress. I believe it obviously took the White House 16 hours to try to craft a response that perhaps the American people would buy or believe, but what I can tell you again is that we take our job very, very seriously and we're going to provide the necessary oversight that I believe the American people want to see. So regardless of what response of the White House struggles to craft, we're going to hold them accountable.

BURNETT: All right, Congressman Demings, I appreciate your time tonight. Thank you.

DEMINGS: Thank you.

BURNETT: And OutFront next is Michael Cohen prepares to go before Congress again. He says this time to tell the truth. The President is now going after Cohen's family. Is this witness intimidation? Plus, the White House reportedly leaking House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's plans to fly commercially to Afghanistan. So why is Sarah Sanders saying they didn't do it? They did do it. They did it. They did it. They leaked it to the New York Times. And President Trump accused of pushing a racially charged story about prayer rugs found at the border.

Tonight, President Trump hitting back at Michael Cohen as Democrats in Congress demand investigations into the BuzzFeed report that there is documentation proving Trump told Cohen to lie under oath about Trump and Russia. Trump tweeting about Cohen, "Lying to reduce his jail time. Watch father-in-law." Now, you might kind of dismiss that except for you wouldn't because it is not the first time that Trump has brought up Cohen's father-in-law.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He should give information maybe on his father-in-law, because that's the one that people want to look at because where does that money - that's the money in the family. And I guess he didn't want to talk about his father. He's trying to get his sentence reduced. So it's pretty sad. You know, it's weak and it's very sad to watch a thing like that. I couldn't care less.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What is his father-in-law's name?

TRUMP: I don't know, but you'll find out.


BURNETT: UpFront now, former 1910 White House Counsel John Dean, former Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Harry Sandick, and New York Times Op-Ed Columnist, Frank Bruni. All right, Harry, Trump has done this again and again, right, bringing Cohen's father-in-law up. What's he doing?


HARRY SANDICK, FORMER ASSISTANT U.S. ATTORNEY FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK: It's totally inappropriate. He's trying to influence Cohen's willingness to testify by implicitly threatening Cohen's father-in-law with prosecution. Now, I have no idea whether Cohen's father-in-law has done anything wrong or not, but you're not suppose to link the two and you're not supposed to try to pressure a witness, so this is wrong and I think it comes close if not amounts to some sort of obstruction or witness tampering.

BURNETT: And John, you say it is witness, well, tampering or intimidation.

JOHN DEAN, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL: It appears to be. He certainly is flagging his father-in-law for some kind of attention that probably the father-in-law doesn't want. He obviously knows about Michael's family from his days being his employee and in the office, so it is threat. I agree with Harry, it's totally inappropriate and very dangerous.

BURNETT: Right, and obviously, it comes in the context of Cohen is going to jail for three years. There's been all kinds of conversations about family, et cetera, so clearly threatening.

DEAN: Yes.

BURNETT: Interesting, Harry, that he's doing it over the air waves.


BURNETT: The way he does this in almost every case, whether it's dangling pardons or threatening people. The guy does it publicly.

SANDICK: Yes. He can't seem to contain himself, wait for the tweet, wait for the calling in to Fox News. And he shouldn't be doing these things, and I'm sure his lawyers, if they are conscientious they're telling him to stop, but they can't control their client.

BURNETT: No, and he's decided this is the line he wants to go down. I mean, Frank, this comes as Michael Cohen is going to testify again in front of Congress, okay, in context of this whole thing that maybe he lied last time before the House Oversight Committee on February 7th.


BURNETT: And by way he's going to jail for other lies he told to Congress. I mean, how worried should the President be about what Cohen is going to say? Cohen, I believe, has said that he's going to talk about what a mad man Trump is. We're going to learn a lot about Donald Trump in this.

BRUNI: Yes. No, I think the President should be very worried, because I think Michael Cohen is going to talk about some of the things he's talked to Molar about, but Mueller about

but also other things, because he's going to get ask questions by lawmakers that are designed to sort of show what a mad man Donald Trump is. And Donald Trump's strategy here is a little odd because he would think that with Cohen about to go and it's February 7th, right, that he's going to talk. BURNETT: Right.

BRUNI: You would think he would not want to goad him into saying the worst possible things, but by firing these shots across the bow by threatening his father-in-law. By the way, his father-in-law is not present, his father-in-law is not accused of colluding with Russia. So to turn this around and say, "Let's look at Cohen's father-in-law, that's the real source of concern." I mean, that's - come on, right?

BURNETT: I mean, Harry, you've got this BuzzFeed story, Democrats have jumped on it, they say it needs to be investigated. Obviously, it's a felony someone were to indictable, they could go to jail for that, right? The question is whether that applies to the President. I don't know if you just heard Congresswoman Demings, but she just said clearly that if Trump did tell Cohen to lie to Congress, to lie under oath, that rises to a level of impeachment.

SANDICK: Oh, absolutely it does. It's a crime, number one. Number two, it's an abuse of power. President Clinton was impeached for among other things trying to tell a witness to make false statements and obviously there was part of Watergate, encouraging people to make false statements. I don't have any doubt that that's impeachable and it's logical that Congress would investigate this. The timing of the investigation, how they do it, lots of open questions.

BURNETT: And that's a move, John, I think when you hear - I think a lot of people on Capitol Hill have tried to be judicious and careful about how they've said things and they still are. They want the facts. That's how it should be, but they are saying, "Look, if this is the case, that is what we're talking about, right? There's no beating around the bush here.

DEAN: Well, I hear the Chairman of the committees that could have jurisdiction over some of this testimony saying that they want to get to the bottom of it. But I doubt the leadership is ready to go yet. They want to get a cue from the Senate that the Senate is possibly interested in pursuing this. You've got to remember that they could impeach and the Senate wouldn't even hold a trial under Mitch McConnell. They would just let it sit there. So that's a....


BURNETT: Right, and that's obviously crucial, especially when you think about Bill Clinton. I mean, you could be impeached and nothing happens because it happens in the House. When it comes to sort of the standard here, Frank, I think it's interesting, right? Lying. Clinton lied and if you tell someone to lie under oath, okay, Donald Trump of course has weighed in on impeachment. He thinks that lying is enough to have you be impeached even if you don't lie under oath, okay? In fact, he was asked about it whether then, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, should impeach President George W. Bush. Yes, she's involved and Trump is weighing on an impeachment and let me play it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) TRUMP: I was surprised she didn't do more in terms of Bush and going

after Bush. It was almost - it just seemed like she was going to really look to impeach Bush and get him out of office, which personally I think would have been a good thing.



TRUMP: Absolutely, for the war, for war.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Because of the conduct ...

TRUMP: He lied. He got us into the war with lies.


BRUNI: Donald Trump has high standards for everyone but himself. This gets added to the long list of things that he probably wishes he'd never said and boy what a trove of these bits from the past we have with him. Listen, I agree with Harry 100%. If this is true, if this BuzzFeed story is true, this is absolutely impeachable. But I also think what John said is very important, which is that there's a separate question of whether Republicans who have swallowed their pride and bitten their tongues for two years now, whether they're going to come around to seeing these things as gravely as they should and whether if the House Democrats impeached him that would lead to anything in the Senate.

BURNETT: But because the Mitt Romney -- the Mitt Romneys of the world are not enough. Even presuming you could get someone like him, you need more than that.

BRUNI: They're very rare and on top of that if the House of Democrats impeached him and there was no support on the other side, remember Bill Clinton was ultimately strengthened politically by impeachment because people felt that the Republicans had gone too far.

BURNETT: And yet, John, what's interesting in that sound bite we just heard, right, Donald Trump's standards, I don't like someone so I think it'd be a wonderful thing to impeach them, and lying about the war not under oath would be a standard for impeachment itself. It is pretty ironic to hear those words now.

DEAN: Well, he is on so many sides of every issue that it doesn't surprise me to hear this claim about impeaching George H. W. Bush. He's unpredictable and nothing means anything to him. He has no underlying principles or philosophy. So it's just him getting attention at the time and I don't think that he really knows what he's talking about when he addresses most of these issues as well.

BURNETT: Harry, if the defense ultimately comes down to with whatever is proven by the facts to have occurred that I didn't think I was going win. So I wasn't trying to collude or do anything, I was just trying to go ahead with my business at the same time. If that's the best he can do, is that enough? SANDICK: I think from a legal perspective, that's very weak. That's

nothing. From a political perspective, as everyone has said tonight, we don't really know what the Senate has the appetite to do with this. And so I do agree with the sense that if there isn't going to be a serious trial and a possibility of removal, it may not be in the interest of the House of Democrats to press this. But from a legal perspective to say, "I didn't think I was going to win and that's why I did all of this," very, very weak there.

BURNETT: Yes. It was also pretty scary to imagine if you get to a legal point as just an American citizen where someone had a felony crime and should be impeached and you don't do it because politically the laws don't matter, that's a really scary thing to say that that's the world that we could be living in.

All right, thank you all very much. Next, President Trump tweeting plans to deliver what he calls a major announcement about the border. I think he thinks it's time to change the subject. Plus, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's wife, there you see her, joining him on an official trip to the Middle East. They required more staff to work during the shutdown without being paid, shopping trip details, what was she doing there because the government is shut down.


Tonight, the White House leaking Speaker Pelosi's plans to fly commercially to Afghanistan. The New York Times reporting that White House sources revealed Pelosi's new plans to fly commercial into a war zone late Thursday night. Now, Pelosi says that leak forced her to cancel her commercial plans because her security was put at risk. The White House firmly denies the leak, an official telling CNN that, "The idea we would leak anything that would put the safety and security of any American at risk is a flat-out lie." Then, according to New York Times they did. They called up late Thursday night and they leaked it to the New York Times, so that's obviously blatantly false.

Phil Mattingly is OutFront. And Phil, the President said he cancelled Pelosi's trip so she could stay to negotiate, right, that was in the letter. "Oh, don't go to Afghanistan. You should be here with me." But there are no negotiations happening this long weekend.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT, CNN: Yes. If that was the goal, there wasn't really any follow-through beyond just taking away the military aircraft to take the congressional delegation to Afghanistan. I'm told there were no phone calls between Democrats and the White House today. There were no proposals traded and there certainly were no meeting invitation. Speaker Pelosi is actually not in Washington, D.C. anymore. She left town a couple of hours ago and the reality remains the same. As far as it goes between Democrats and the President, there are no talks, there are no clear pathways forward.

Now, as you noted before the break, the president tweeted earlier tonight that there was going to be a major announcement tomorrow at the White House. I'm told Democrats are not aware of what that announcement would be and here's kind of the issue with that regardless of where the President goes. Mitch McConnell, the Republican Senate Majority Leader has made clear that whatever ends up being the final pathway out of this is going to have to come through negotiations between the President and Congressional Democrats.

Negotiations that as you know have not taken place, so that raises a question as to whatever the President announces tomorrow, is it going to be something that can actually get out of the shutdown because in order to get out of the shutdown you need Democrats, Democrats who currently are not in town, some of whom won't be back until Tuesday, some won't be back until the week after that and that just kind of leaves everybody scratching their heads right now and wondering A; what the President is going to announce and B; is it actually going to move the ball anywhere because, Erin, as you know quite well, we're 28 days into this and to be frank they are no closer to a resolution now than they were on day one.

BURNETT: Okay. Phil, thank you very much. So let's go now to Democratic Congressman Dan Kildee of Michigan. He is the Chief Deputy Whip. Congressman, okay, so there's this announcement, the President is going to be making a major announcement he calls it concerning the humanitarian crisis on the Southern Border and the Shutdown. Are you aware of what it's about?

DAN KILDEE, CHIEF DEPUTY WHIP, CONGRESSMAN: I have no idea and I don't know that anybody does. The president is teasing his own announcement like he's teasing the next episode of a game show. This is really serious business. If the President has an announcement to make, he should just say it so that these people who are working without pay and the people in this country who are being threatened by the impact of this shutdown can move on.

[19:30:04] If the president has something to say, stop playing games. Just say it.

BURNETT: So, do you think it could be something like reopen the government but declaring the national emergency to do his wall? Is that what you expect it is or not up to that line?

KILDEE: Who knows? I mean, I've stopped trying to predict this president's behavior because it's so erratic. The truth of the matter is, it's not up to him to reopen the government. I read article one of the Constitution again this morning. Mitch McConnell could simply do his job and we could get government open again.

For some reason, Mitch lacks the courage to upset this president. I don't know why but he has a responsibility. He swore an oath to the constitution. Article One vests these decisions in the Congress. And we can enact a budget without the president's signature if we simply do what Mitch was willing to do a few weeks ago.

BURNETT: Right, and this is to vote, what, they voted and you all voted on pieces to put that to a vote is what he's not doing, is what I understand you're referring.

KILDEE: Yes, we passed the very same spending bills that the Republican led Senate passed a few weeks ago with overwhelming numbers.

BURNETT: And then the president backed out and now here we are. I mean, look, in his letter to the speaker, Trump said, quote, it would be better if she was in Washington tying to work out a deal. He didn't set up any talks. There's no invitation or nothing.

She's gone. He's doing this speech on his own. She's not scheduled to be back until Tuesday which, I just want to point out, is three days before another zero dollar paycheck goes out to 800,000 Americans.

Can the government formally reopen before then?

KILDEE: We should be able to. And like I said, I don't mean to be a broken record, Mitch McConnell, the Republicans in the Senate, have the ability to get the government open notwithstanding the president's erratic and I believe psychologically unbalanced behavior. This guy is really going off the rails.

We need to step up and do what the framers expected us to do and provide a check on a president who is clearly incapable of the basic responsibilities of the office that he holds.

BURNETT: So when you say that, are you calling for Article 25? Or you say he's incapable of serving?

KILDEE: Unfortunately, Article 25 requires those around the president, his direct appointees to initiate some action and because of the departures of the last remaining responsible members of his cabinet, he's surrounded by a group of sycophants who seem to just jump whenever he says jump and cower when ever he gets angry and tweets.

I wish I was exaggerating, Erin. This is really a bad situation for our country. But the framers anticipated this moment. That's why they vested in Congress and the House and the Senate, the ability to over ride a rogue presidency.

And so, while I could continue to observe the president's behavior and criticize it, I think the more important thing for the American people to do is to demand that the United States Senate do its constitutional duty and get the government open again and then we can move forward with an honest debate about border security or any other issue. But this is a moment that requires us to look at the oath and the constitution that we swore that oath to and step up.

BURNETT: I want to ask you about the report today that the chairman, both the House Intelligence Committee chairs and the house judiciary chairs want investigations into the report by BuzzFeed, the report that the president told Michael Cohen to lie under oath. What's your reaction?

KILDEE: Well, the report indicates there's corroborating evidence. I think for those charged with responsibility, we need to see that evidence. I do agree -- one of my colleagues, I can't recall which, indicated it

might be time, I think it was Senator Murphy, who said it might be time for Mr. Mueller to begin to provide to Congress the necessary information we need to do our job that may not constitute a complete report. But if he has evidence that questions the president's veracity and actually questions whether or not he's suborn perjury, we need to know that --


KILDEE: -- as soon as those facts are available.

BURNETT: So, basically, if this is true, and there's corroborating evidence and Mueller has it, which is the report is, at this point, you need that evidence now. This is leaked out, you need it.

KILDEE: I believe we do. I mean, I have taken the position that we need to await the Mueller report before those big questions are answered. But this report is really troubling. We can't base it on a single reporting from a single news source. But if the indication is that there's evidence, we need to know.

[19:35:02] BURNETT: All right. Well, I appreciate your time, Congressman. Thank you very much.

KILDEE: Thank you, Erin.

BURNETT: And next, this is B.S. That is from one official after the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo brought his wife on an official trip to the Middle East during the shutdown. What was she doing? Well, guess what we know and you're going to find out.

Plus, President Trump accused of pushing an unfounded racist conspiracy theory. Tonight, will a Republican speak up?


BURNETT: Breaking news: a spokesperson for the special counsel Robert Mueller's office is disputing "BuzzFeed's" article. The article says according to two law enforcement officials, Michael Cohen was reported to lie under oath, specifically to tell Congress under oath that negotiations to build Trump Tower in Moscow ended before the primaries.

Now, the specific counsel has just come out with statement. I want to read it to you. Responding to "BuzzFeed", saying, "BuzzFeed's" description of specific statements to the special counsel's office and characterization of documents and testimony obtained by this office regarding Michael Cohen's congressional testimony are not accurate. That's according to the spokesman for Robert Mueller's office.

I want to go straight to Sara Murray.

[19:40:01] All right, Sara. Highly unusual we could get a statement from the special counsel's office, because we never get statements from the special counsel's office. You know, not even to say what they ate for lunch literally. This is a big deal.

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it is a huge deal, Erin. The most we get from the special counsel's office is an off the record comment. To see them put out a pretty fulsome statement like this to essentially say, look, this "BuzzFeed" report is not accurate, that is a very big deal.

I think you're seeing a response they probably did not want to put out there today. Obviously, it took them quite some time to move forward and to make this response public. But we're seeing it in the wake of all these Democratic lawmakers coming out today pointing to this "BuzzFeed" report saying if this is true, essentially, this is grounds to move forward with impeachment proceedings.


MURRAY: We have seen committee members saying we want to dig into this and try to find the underlying documents, the underlying witnesses behind this. And, again, if it's true, would have been obstruction of the justice, would have been the president trying to get a witness to commit perjury, would have been the grounds for impeachment proceedings. And that I think that's why you're seeing the special counsel's office take this step of issuing a statement like this.

We know they don't want to be in the habit of saying this is right and this is wrong, because they're not supposed to be commenting about ongoing investigations, but obviously this was a different kind of story.

BURNETT: Well, that's right. We just heard Congressman Kildee say, look, you know, now that this is out there, Mueller owes us an answer. And now, it seems like they are trying to do that. Now, is there anything to read between the lines, right? When they go through what they are saying, right, the "BuzzFeed" reporting was saying they had two sources, right, and one of the reporters said they had seen the underlying, you know, corroborating evidence, they had all these text messages and e-mails and got all that and knew it to be true and confronted Cohen.

I mean, it's quite explicit, but the special counsel is specifically saying, the characterization of documents and testimony is not accurate. I mean, it seems to bee a clear rebuttal.

MURRAY: Right. They're just as explicit in their response, as you know, "BuzzFeed" was out there saying, look, this is not just based on these people's perceptions. They've seen these documents, they're aware of all these documents. The special counsel saying, you know, this is not accurate of sort of the information, the documents, the testimony that the special counsel has at their disposal.

You know, obviously, Erin, we've all been in a difficult position with this report. No one else has been able to confirm it. We have been saying that on the air over and over again, that CNN couldn't independently confirm it. And even the BuzzFeed reporter said they haven't seen this underlying evidence and now, the special counsel is saying we haven't seen this underlying evidence either. It's not accurate as far as we're concerned.

BURNETT: All right. So, Sara, you know, stay with me.

I want to bring back Harry Sandick and John Dean.

Harry, what do you make as the special counsel is coming out with statement? Obviously, extenuating circumstances, right? They're now owed and answered to Congress, right, which was saying this would be a crime, this would be a felony, this would be impeachable. We demand an answer from Mueller.

Well, Mueller is giving it. This seems unequivocal.

HARRY SANDICK, FORMER ASSISTANT U.S. ATTORNEY, SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK (via telephone): Yes, this seems unequivocal. You know, many of us have said, you know, if this story is true, that's the major caveat. And I think that the special counsel recognizes that it does something of an obligation to correct the record given where the public debate has headed over the past 24 hours. And if it's not true, it's good they spoke up and said it isn't true. They don't want people to be misled.

So, I think it warrants the deviation from the normal and healthy practice they follow to avoid public comment and speak only in court.

BURNETT: So, John Dean, what do you think happened here? I mean, we need to know more details, but you have a news organization come out and said, two law enforcement officials with direct knowledge, saying there was corroborating evidence, saying one of the reporters had seen it, and the special counsel's office is saying it isn't true. I mean, it sounds pretty terrible for BuzzFeed?

JOHN DEAN, FORMER NIXON WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL: It sounds very terrible for BuzzFeed. I have a lot of faith in the fact that Mueller never puts out statements or rarely. And the other thing is, I looked at the reporters who were behind the story. I only know one of them, Jason Leopold. He's a fairly -- he's a careful reporter. I can't believe he would put out a bogus story.

The other one is a Pulitzer Prize winner which makes it even more confusing. They are both investigative reporters. And they must have trusted their sources. So, they have been misled by their sources. It's hard to tell at this point.

BURNETT: I mean, Sara, it is pretty hard to understand what would happen here. I mean, nobody would come out and do something like this if they knew it to be false. So, clearly, they believed it was true. And again, we need more details on exactly what the documents were and how you could possibly -- if it's -- they never existed or if there's different interpretations of them.

But what do you make of this? Where they lied to?

MURRAY: You could certainly be -- I mean, certainly.

[19:45:02] There's always the possibility someone was lied to, but there's also the possibility that, you know, whoever these federal law enforcement officials were, they saw some subset of these documents and drew conclusions that maybe took leaps that are not backed up by the documentation. Maybe they drew different conclusions than what the special counsel's office drew.

It's just difficult to know, Erin, without knowing what was actually included in these underlying documents. I think that this is the kind of story where because it has such fantastic consequence, incredible, you know, sort of country -- it changes the direction of the country if the consequences were real, that they're going to go forward with impeachment proceedings.

You want to be really careful on something like this. I think that's why the BuzzFeed reporters took pain there was this underlying evidence. But, you know, the special counsel's team was saying, these documents, they don't exist in the way they're described in the story.

BURNETT: All right. Well, thank you very much, Sara Murray, John and Harry. Obviously, we'll update you as we get more. We have that very important rebuttal from the special counsel's office this hour.

And next, the president accused of tweeting a racist story about prayer rugs at the border. We'll tell you what that means.

Plus, why was Mike Pompeo's wife traveling with him on an official trip to the Middle East with extra staff in the middle of a government shutdown?


[19:50:12] BURNETT: New tonight, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's wife traveling with him on special business, requiring her staff and security, a surprising move at a time when many State Department employees aren't getting paid because of the shutdown.

Michelle Kosinski is OUTFRONT.


MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN SENIOR DIPLOMATIC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Secretary of State Mike Pompeo traveled through the Middle East, eight countries, reassuring allies about the U.S.'s role. But it's the role of someone else who went on the trip, Pompeo's wife, Susan, during the government shutdown, that raised questions among many State Department diplomats. According to one senior official, this is B.S., you done bring more people that need staffing, transportation, et cetera, when embassy employees are working without being paid.

The State Department says most diplomats abroad have not been paid during the shutdown. Many had to come to work anyway to handle this trip, for some requiring very long hours.

One source familiar with the planning tells CNN: I have been outraged. Eyebrows were raised from the start. Why was this necessary? This wasn't a matter of national security.

Pompeo described the trip as a working one for his wife as well.

MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE: She meets with the medical officers. She will tour housing. She will write up her thoughts and comments after that. I wish I had time to do those things myself, but she is a force multiplier.

KOSINSKI: Susan Pompeo had a State Department employee dedicated to tending to her schedule. At each location, she had her own state official and security to travel with her to meetings.

She also required that staffing and security to shop at a local market, which sources say made her late for the next flight, keeping the secretary and his team waiting on the plane at least a half hour, plus a crowd of officials waiting at the next stop.

Another issue raised is what kind of notes and recommendations exactly Susan Pompeo will prepare as the secretary said she would.

BRETT BRUEN, FORMER WHITE HOUSE DIRECTOR OF GLOBAL ENGAGEMENT: He takes his wife and gives her responsibilities, gives her support and taking that away from those same men and women during a shutdown, during a time when they are particularly suffering. It sends a terrible message about a double standard, one set of rules applies to me, another set of rules applies to the working men and women of this department.

KOSINSKI: And while it's not that common for secretary spouses to join them in those trips, it has happened.

REAR ADM. JOHN KIRBY (RET.), FORMER STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESPERSON: It's important when they do, that they have an itinerary that is justified for the trip. That they are having engagements of their own, that they are providing meaningful context.

KOSINSKI: Normally, it wouldn't draw anger or even much notice necessarily. But this is a government shutdown. People were called in and worked for free.


KOSINSKI: So, we have a lot of questions for the State Department about this. How many people were tasked with working with Pompeo's wife and all of these stops? How many of them were paid? How much did this cost? How much is she going to reimburse?

It has been days now. And the State Department still hasn't answered those questions, even though, of course, this trip is funded by taxpayers. They just said at the beginning of the trip that this meets all of the rules and regulations that the State Department requires.

Only once our story aired today did they get back to us, again, not answering all those questions, but they said that they wouldn't characterize one of the stops we mentioned as a shopping trip. They said she was at the market, but she was there for a meeting with the wife of the king of Bahrain. And you might remember that she also came under some scrutiny when Pompeo was the head of the CIA, the amount of time she spent there, for traveling with him then as well, and also, for using office space at the agency, Erin.

BURNETT: Yes, you know, Michelle, I think it's important just to note that the reason that this is a story is because the president wrote the letter yesterday to Nancy Pelosi, right, saying it's a shutdown. You shouldn't use these resources. So, when Melania Trump used a government plane, that became a story, and this too.

KOSINSKI: Right. And also the fact that these people who we are told by multiple sources were supporting her at each of these eight stops, they were not being paid. Not all of them, the State Department won't share the numbers with us, but many of these people say they were working around the clock not being paid and asking questions, why did Pompeo's wife come along during this government shutdown?

BURNETT: Thank you very much, Michelle.

Sorry, I have a cough there.

OK, I want go back to breaking news though right now. The spokesperson for the special counsel Robert Mueller's office disputing BuzzFeed's article that Michael Cohen was instructed to lie by Donald Trump to lie under oath, specifically to tell Congress the negotiations to build that Trump Tower in Moscow.


[19:55:02] Joan Walsh, and Ben Ferguson is with me.

Sorry, guys. I'm obviously having trouble with my throat. I want to get through the statement, though, from Peter Carr, the spokesperson for Mueller. BuzzFeed's description of specific statements for the special counsel's office and characterization of documents and testimony obtained by this office regarding Michael Cohen's testimony are not accurate.

Joan, that's a huge statement.


BURNETT: Special counsel is now commented. Congress was demanding it. That seems like an incredible reputation of an article which said it was based upon evidence.

WALSH: It does. I mean, we're waiting for BuzzFeed's response as well, which we need. But it is something that has to set us all back.

People have been -- have talked about impeachment. People really took this very seriously, because "BuzzFeed" has a good track record. They are sober, reliable journalists. I don't -- I'm not going to jump to say they did something wrong, but it sounds like something is wrong. I want their explanation.

BURNETT: Right. I mean, Ben, that is a crucial thing, right? You have people demanding -- if true it's caveated, if true. OK, if true, but this is clearly being disputed.

But it's pretty stunning to have them be so special. It appears from this statement, there is no gray area, at least that's the way it reads.

BEN FERGUSON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Two things. BuzzFeed is not a serious news organization. They shouldn't be treated as such moving forward.

The same, they put out the dossier, which was absolutely wrong. This is embarrassing they put this out there. This is unprecedented that this came out from Mueller's team. They have not done this before in news article.

So, to try to defend BuzzFeed is ridiculous and indefensible. What really bothers me though about this is the irresponsible --

WALSH: "BuzzFeed" is an excellent news organization.

FERGUSON: Well, you can say that. They just got their brains kicked in by the special counsel's office.


WALSH: I wouldn't put it that way.

FERGUSON: I'm going to side with the special counsel office on this one. I trust them way more than "BuzzFeed" at this point.

BURNETT: Hold on one second. Both of you could pause for one second. I just want to go back to Abby Philip at the White House, trying to record on the reaction there from this. Abby, what more can you tell us?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Erin, there hasn't been much of a reaction tonight, reaching out to White House aides, really silence from them. But you have to believe this is going to be a major thing for them. They tried this afternoon to really shoot down the story, trying to undermine the credibility of "BuzzFeed" and then later it was categorically false.

Now, it turns that they are getting a little bit of a helping hand from the special counsel who the president has attacked repeatedly in the past. But now, it's turning out to be something that's helpful to them. I think we have seen Don Jr. on Twitter reacting basically laughing emojis. People will take a major victory lap here.

But it's not clear if they will comment on tonight, or even from the president himself over the next few hours or days. He -- this is something that I think will be advantageous to them as they try to make the case that the reporting has not been accurate. After delaying for some time, they did eventually say it was false. I think they're going to have an opportunity to really take a victory lap on this.

BURNETT: They certainly will. The strange thing was that it took 16 hours to do that, but they did.

You have got this -- just to emphasize here, Democrats had jumped on this immediately. Some of them last night were quick to hit Twitter and jump. So, if true --

WALSH: If true --

BURNETT: But you get a lot of people who were jumping on it, they wanted investigations. Does all that stop now?

WALSH: No. There were always going to be investigations. There's more than enough reason to have investigations.

BURNETT: I mean into -- what is the evidence --

WALSH: I think there should be an investigation. Now as much as ever. Maybe they will disprove it. Maybe they will -- an investigation will show us what "BuzzFeed" got wrong. It's not that an investigation has to come to a pretty ordained, Erin, there's something weird going on here. I think that they should investigate still.


FERGUSON: It's incredible to me the irresponsibility of members of Congress. Congressman's Castro's tweet was --


BURNETT: Joaquin Castro, right, he's the first to tweet.

FERGUSON: Yes, right, if the "BuzzFeed" story is true, President Trump must resign or be impeached. You going to take that back? No. You want to destroy the president.

Others that went along with him. They're not going to take it back either. They're not going to apologize. They're not going to be grownups, they're not going to be adults, because Congress and the Democratic Party has become so hateful towards this president that even when they get information that's wrong, you just heard it, they still want to actually investigate information that Mueller's team is saying is completely false.

WALSH: It didn't say completely false. It said the specific statements --


FERGUSON: Sure they did. It was a statement that they never make. They never make statements like this. You know that.

WALSH: They didn't say it is completely false. Sure, Ben, it's clear to you.


BURNETT: Characterization and description, yes, were not accurate.

All right. I have to leave it here because I literally have to hand it off to Anderson.

Thank you both for being with me. I apologize for the sudden coughing. I will be better Monday.

Thanks for joining us. Anderson is next.