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Mueller's Office Disputes BuzzFeed Report; U.S. Government Shutdown Showdown; Women's March Continues Despite Anti-Semitism Claims; Interview with Uma Mishra-Newbery of Women's March Global; Animal Rights Groups Protest against Ancient Ritual. Aired 3-3:30a ET

Aired January 19, 2019 - 03:00   ET




CYRIL VANIER, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Not accurate: the special counsel pours cold water on explosive media reports against Donald Trump.

Round two: the U.S. president plans to meet again with the North Korean leader next month.

And Women's Marches: rallies are expected around the world on Saturday but the U.S. national chapter, where it all began, is dealing with accusations of anti-Semitism.

We're live from the CNN Center here in Atlanta. I'm Cyril Vanier. Great to have you with us.


VANIER: The office of special counsel Robert Mueller issued a rare public statement to dispute parts of an explosive story by BuzzFeed News. The item that threatened to bring the U.S. president closer to an obstruction of justice case. CNN has not corroborated this BuzzFeed report. It alleges that Trump directed his then attorney and fixer, Michael Cohen, to lie to Congress about a proposed Trump Tower project in Moscow.

Cohen has pleaded guilty to lying to Congress. Almost 24 hours after the bombshell dropped, Mueller's office felt compelled to distance itself from the report. It didn't say the BuzzFeed story was entirely wrong but that important details missed the mark.

BuzzFeed says it stands by its report.


BEN SMITH, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, BuzzFeed: We spoke to, as we described, to federal law enforcement officials involved in the investigation. We're not playing again to that characterization, who told us that the president directed Michael Cohen to lie to Congress.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Do you know who those two sources are? Because I know -- yes, this was two reporters.


SMITH: Do I know?


SMITH: Of course, I know.


SMITH: Yes. And, you know, and we've been reporting on the Trump Tower Moscow, which is at the heart of the Russia investigation, for months. We broke, you know, we broke stories about it before it was at the center of the Cohen indictment.

And that was Jason Leopold and Anthony Cormier.

We hope that, with the Special Counsel release this, honestly, this vague statement disputing the piece and we really urge the Special Counsel to make it clear what he is disputing.


VANIER: CNN's Sara Murray has the latest from Washington on this.


SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The special counsel's office on Friday taking an extraordinary step and disputing a report in BuzzFeed News. That report had said that President Donald Trump had convinced his long-time personal attorney, Michael Cohen, to lie to Congress about the Trump Tower Moscow deal.

MURRAY: We very rarely hear from the special counsel's office. Here's what the spokesman, Peter Carr, said in a statement.

"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 testimony are not accurate," Peter Carr said.

And we also got a statement from BuzzFeed on Friday evening and they are not backing away from their story.

They said, "We are continuing to report and determine what the special counsel is disputing. We remain confident in the accuracy of our report."

Now that report sent Washington into a frenzy on Friday. We saw a number of Democratic lawmakers coming out, pointing to the BuzzFeed story and saying, look, if this is true, if Donald Trump did, in fact, convince a witness to lie, if he did try to obstruct justice, that is grounds to move forward with impeachment proceedings. One of the questions for the lawmakers is they want to see the

underlying documents the BuzzFeed report was based on. What we see now from the special counsel's office is they're saying, look, these underlying documents and underlying witness interviews do not show what this BuzzFeed story says they're going to show.

And it's so, so rare for the special counsel to speak out about anything, just to give you a sense. Last year they refused to even comment in "The New York Times" about what one of their prosecutors was having for lunch at Paul Manafort's trial.

That suggests an extraordinary day here in Washington -- Sara Murray, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE) Earlier I spoke about this controversy with political analyst, Peter

Mathews, and former assistant U.S. attorney, David Katz. And I began by asking if they believed that the BuzzFeed report might still be fundamentally true even though Mueller's office had flagged it as "not entirely accurate."


DAVID KATZ, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: I believe that the substance of it may very well be true and it will be borne out by the House investigation and by Mueller's own investigation.

I think Mueller wanted to make sure that the world knew and that the Trump administration knew it wasn't from his shop because Mueller has navigated through much more difficult waters than this story. He's managed to stay alive and keep the investigation alive when it was all Republicans in control.

I think that Mueller was being careful and I think that is about all the statement means for now.

VANIER: In that case, I have a theory. But I'll get to --


VANIER: -- that in a minute. Let me get to Peter.

Peter, did Democrats overreact?

Did this BuzzFeed report, did the House Intelligence Committee promise an investigation into this?

I want to show you some tweets.

Congressman Joaquin Castro tweeted, "If the BuzzFeed story is true, Trump must resign or be impeached."

We have another one, Congressman Eric Swalwell tweeted, "More evidence of collusion."

He went on to say that if Trump directed his lawyer to lie, it was to conceal the underlying allegation from being exposed as true.

Did they jump the gun in your estimate?

PETER MATHEWS, CYPRESS COLLEGE: Not exactly, Cyril, because they said if the story is true, they didn't say it is true. There was a caveat there, and I think they're waiting to see what comes forth.

Dave was absolutely right. Mueller was trying to make sure that nobody thought it came from his office.

So who leaked it?

What are the sources of BuzzFeed?

Was it from the Justice Department or the Southern District of New York?

We don't know. So we have to wait and see what happens there. But ultimately, this question is a political question. If the president did something as high crimes and misdemeanors, it does not boil down to a legal question, it's a political one.

Has he compromised the Constitution?

Did he challenge the rule of law?

In those cases, they could certainly be high crimes and misdemeanors. So we have to look at what the Congress has the political will to impeach and or try him and in the end remove him. And on that, it won't boil down to ultimately a political -- I mean, a legal --


VANIER: Well, yes, but they can only have political will if they actually have reasonable grounds to do so, if they have ammunition. And right now, following the special counsel's statement, who has ammunition, I would say it is the president, ammunition for his accusations of fake news and media bias.

MATHEWS: Well, he can certainly flip it that way and say I was right all along. He's already doing so with Giuliani.

The question is --


VANIER: It is not just flipping. There is an explosive media report that is -- we're now being told by the special counsel, who should know, that the report is inaccurate. So it wouldn't be spinning, right?

MATHEWS: Well, I think they are implying that parts of it are inaccurate, certain characterizations are inaccurate, not the whole report.

(CROSSTALK) MATHEWS: It could be seen that way, certainly. But I think there's far more to go here and we've got to give it time at this point. I don't believe that -- I think it is important that Congress investigate this.

So Democrats are right and having taken over the House they need to launch a very formal and deep investigation into what actually is happening and start subpoenaing people to get documents about this as well.


KATZ: During Watergate there was an investigation by Congress and also by the special prosecutor both at the same time. I think it is logical that this will be investigated by a House committee. The emoluments will be investigated by a House Committee. There's other things that the Republicans, when they were in control of the House, wouldn't investigate, Cyril, that are going to be investigated.

They have the same powers as the grand jury. The House can subpoena people. They can have stuff in closed session, like a grand jury, that's secondly. They can make everyone come to a special room, like they did with the Kavanaugh follow up investigation so it doesn't get leaked to the public.

The House has a huge amount of power to get to the bottom of this. But let's remember that the Trump Organization employees got immunity. You remember that? They got immunity to give over records and to testify.

Michael Cohen was also -- he -- he said in open court that Individual- 1 was involved with him. Individual-1, that's President Trump. That's how he got that moniker from the testimony that was given in open court. And Mueller said as to Cohen's testimony and representations, that they were credible and that he should be given a concurrent sentence because what he Cohen said about being directed by President Trump was credible.

VANIER: We're really in this gray zone right now, where we just don't know what is -- what is actually true and what details can be corroborated, what can't. We at CNN, I'd like to point this out again, have not corroborated the aspects of the BuzzFeed reporting; well, the entire story, in fact.

David, real quick, I want to put that theory to you that I talked about earlier. Earlier on CNN, Preet Bharara, and follow me here, the former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, hypothesized that, if Mueller were about to release a report alleging something about what we saw in the BuzzFeed story, he wouldn't have put out that statement.

In other words, Mueller likely does not have evidence that Trump ordered Cohen to lie. Otherwise he wouldn't put out a statement.

Do you disagree or agree? KATZ: I don't think I entirely agree with that because if you remember -- there was a reporting -- there was reporting that Cohen worked with some Trump lawyers as part of a joint defense agreement. So that -- that at least some Trump lawyers were aware of what Michael Cohen was going to falsely testify to Congress.

On top of that Cohen gave a press release before he gave his testimony in front of Congress, that took the position that he was going to say that there was no more negotiation about a Trump Tower Moscow after January 2016.

We now know it certainly is true. It is not just Cohen saying so. It is certainly true that the negotiations went on into the summer of 2016, while Trump was --


KATZ: -- in the heart of his campaign.

So I think we really need to stay tuned and I think Mueller was just being careful. He's always the careful prosecutor. And as BuzzFeed said, they stand by the story. The editor knows the two law enforcement sources for the story.

VANIER: All right, David Katz, Peter Mathews, thank you both for joining us.

MATHEWS: You're welcome.

KATZ: My pleasure.


VANIER: An senior administration official tells CNN, President Trump plans to offer Democrats a third plan to end the partial government shutdown. That offer will be made later on Saturday, when Trump addresses the nation from the White House.

The official adds the idea is to get the Democrats to the negotiating table with some concessions. Mr. Trump, however, will likely not back off from his demand for a southern border wall.

And the second summit between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong- un will happen late next month. North Korea's top negotiator met with the U.S. secretary of state early Friday in Washington and then went on to the White House to meet with President Trump for more than 90 minutes in the Oval Office.

The announcement comes a day after the president rolled out the Pentagon report that said North Korea is still an extraordinary threat to the United States.

Let's bring in our Matt Rivers, joining us from Beijing.

Matt, I have to start where I think any reasonable person would want to start on this topic, which is has there been any progress made since the first meeting of Trump and Kim Jong-un, when there was some vague commitment to denuclearization?

MATT RIVERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The ultimate goal, if progress is described as North Korea denuclearizing, which is the ultimate stated goal of the Trump administration, and the answer, Cyril, has to essentially be no, at least what's known to public knowledge and what can be verified.

There have been no outward signs that North Korea has begun any sort of process to denuclearize. Yes, they took reporters up to a testing site, where they supposedly blew up a tunnel used to test nuclear devices. But there was no way that could be verified, including by CNN journalists on the scene. Experts were not allowed to be there and that tunnel could eventually be restarted, in the eyes of experts.

So that was the only kind of public facing display that North Korea really gave. And that can't be verified. And so if your definition of progress, which is the Trump administration definition of progress, is North Korea denuclearizing, then no, there's no verifiable steps taken by North Koreans to show it will denuclearize in any timeframe, not only the United States and the Western world and most of the world would want to see.

VANIER: OK, so with that context and with all that said, what could we possibly expect out of a round two?

RIVERS: The United States is going to go in there, probably hoping for a timeline and some specificity that would go much further than what I just described some sort of step they could point to and say progress has been taken.

But what you hear from critics about the second summit, is that North Korea perhaps believes they can extract greater concessions from the United States by meeting directly with Donald Trump as opposed to meeting with the special envoy that has been announced by the United States to deal with North Korea.

Obviously, North Korea and the United States are going to go into this summit wanting different things. But I think ultimately we had no idea what to expect during the first summit. It surprised a lot of people, the way that ended up.

I think going into the second summit it is going to be -- going to be an exercise in guesswork yet again. We really have no idea what will come out of it because any summit that is led by Trump, we know, if anything, he's not a predictable president. So really we don't know what would happen in a second summit.

VANIER: Matt Rivers in Beijing, that promises to be fun. That's in late February, we don't have an exact date or place yet. Thank you, Matt.

Now to Mexico, where at least 21 people were killed when a pipeline exploded; 71 people were also injured. This happened just north of Mexico City.

The state oil company said this blast was caused by the illegal tapping of the line for petrol. Mexico recently closed several pipelines to crack down on this kind of fuel theft. But that has only added to the shortage of petrol.

And millions of women sparked a movement in a march on Washington two years ago. But this year's Women's March is being overshadowed by controversy. We'll have more on that when we come back.

And a state of emergency has been declared in Pennsylvania and New Jersey ahead of a powerful winter storm moving across the U.S. Stay with us.





VANIER: Six continents, 30 countries and hundreds of marches. Women all over the world are standing in solidarity Saturday for the third annual Women's March. Almost 300 events are scheduled in the U.S. alone. This year's theme is the #WomensWave, focusing on ending violence against women. The march started in 2017 as a protest of Donald Trump's election. It was praised for bringing together women of all races, ethnicities, religions. That was then.

Now the movement has split and it faces accusations of anti-Semitism after the co-president of the march attended an event where a black nationalist made anti-Semitic remarks and later praised him on social media.

The march's leadership says they are working to make all women feel welcome but the damage may already be done. New York City is set to hold dueling marches on Saturday. That is just one city where there will be two competing events.

Joining me now from Zurich, Switzerland, is Uma Mishra-Newbery, the interim executive director of Women's March Global.

Uma, I want you to address in your capacity the -- the international aspect of this. Before we do that, I have to ask you to address the controversy surrounding the U.S. chapter, which is by far the most important founding chapter.

UMA MISHRA-NEWBERY, WOMEN'S MARCH GLOBAL: Absolutely, Cyril, thank you so much for having me on. I want to be very clear here that we're a separate organization from Women's March Inc. and we've been separate and we have always --


VANIER: On their website, by the way, you're under their umbrella.

MISHRA-NEWBERY: We're a separate organization. We share a brand. That is how we're connected. But from the onset, when this controversy broke out, we have always denounced anti-Semitism. We have denounced Farrakhan. Our statement from March of 2018 says exactly that.

And we will continue to have -- to have a very clear position on anti- Semitism. Globally, when we talk about anti-Semitism, there's no room. The rise in anti-Semitism in Europe and the rise of fascism in Europe gives us no room, other than to be very clear on where our stand is in this.

VANIER: When you see what's happening in the U.S. with the division of some of the original founders actually splitting over who needed to be -- who needed to be prioritized, which women needed to be prioritized in the march, whether women of color, whether Jewish women, et cetera, and when you see this fight, what do you think?

Because this is contrary to the original mission statement, which was to work across racial and religious lines. It is just its second or third year the organization has stumbled on exactly this.

MISHRA-NEWBERY: It is -- it is disheartening to say the least. Movement building is not easy work. And I would remind everyone that what we are trying to do is to take this moment in time, where millions of women and allies gathered around the world, January 21st, 2017, and sustain that as --


MISHRA-NEWBERY: -- continued momentum throughout the world. So it is disheartening because we have global organizers within Women's March Global that are so deeply connected to the grassroots and to the work that they're doing, which is why we're in over 30 countries this weekend, and why we started the #WomensWave in Auckland late last night European time.

They had a -- this had a great speaker talking about there was so much violence last year that women experienced within New Zealand. And the wave is transpiring across continents and borders. And so that's really what we're focused on within Women's March Global.

VANIER: As you know, some -- some -- some women who wanted to join the march, Jewish women in particular, have either decided to stay away, again in the U.S., or are wondering whether or not to stay away.

Is that something you heard on your side of the Atlantic?

MISHRA-NEWBERY: We have an event in Tel Aviv today. It is taking place today. We have Jewish women in our leadership. We have Jewish women on our staff, we're very proud of their leadership. We're very proud of their continued commitment to work alongside us and to make this world a better place for women and for all people.

So it is -- you know while -- while the -- while the events in the United States have affected us and we have to respond to them, we haven't seen -- seen this disbanding or this separation between women across the -- across countries. VANIER: The first edition of the Women's March started in the U.S. also as an anti-Trump event. It was right after his inauguration. Now that it has gone global, from your side of things, have you moved on from Trump?

Or is that still part of the platform?

MISHRA-NEWBERY: Yes, absolutely we have moved on from Trump because there are so many things globally that we are focused on. Just if we look at the fact, our theme this year for end violence against women is so critical.

The United Nations came out with this statistic, one in three women will experience violence in her lifetime. And if we look at the statistics from 2018, 369 transgender people were killed. And those are the statistics that we know. Over 60 women in Australia were killed last year. The rates of rape in South Africa are five times higher than they are anywhere in the world.

So definitely we have moved on from Trump because the issues that women are facing are so critical. But there have also been gains since the 2017 original march in the fact that millions of women in Argentina, last year in August, poured out onto the streets, calling for bodily autonomy, calling for free and safe access to abortions.

There is so much unity within what we call this global sisterhood, this global community. And it would not be without the work of our global organizers that are on the ground and incredibly committed to advancing the needle on women's rights.

VANIER: Yes, certainly the marches, the international aspect of it, the marches across the world have really begun to spread. It is now in its third edition, that's Saturday. even though there are some question marks over the U.S. We'll see the attendance there.

Uma Mishra-Newbery, thank you so much for joining us on the show.

MISHRA-NEWBERY: Thank you so much for having me.

VANIER: And for centuries, a small Spanish village has hosted a celebration originally meant to protect it from sickness. The centerpiece though, is horses running through fire. It is an astonishing sight but some animal groups think otherwise.


VANIER (voice-over): For one night, every January, fire banishes the darkness of winter and the clutter of horses' hooves echoes through the Spanish village, northwest of Madrid. Locals say the event dates back five centuries to a time when church rituals used smoke in an attempt to ward off the threat of the plague.

In honor of St. Anthony the Abbot, patron saint of animals, they celebrate the Luminarias Festival.

JOSE ANTONIO COSTUMERO, FESTIVAL ASSISTANT (through translator): It's the tradition here, that what the smoke does is heal the horses and the rest of the animals, for the rest of the year. That's the tradition. And then also to have fun, to eat steaks, have a good wine and spend time with good friends.

PEDRO MARTIN MUNOZ, ORGANIZER, 2019 FESTIVAL (through translator): For us to ride in Las Luminarias is a magical night. You can't explain how it feels. It's a great satisfaction.

VANIER: In recent years, animal rights groups have objected to the festival. They say that making horses trot through flames because of an ancient superstition is cruel. However, the organizers say that veterinarians have examined the horses after the event and found no injuries.

JESUS HERNANDEZ, FESTIVAL HORSE RIDER (through translator): After running, a vet comes over --


HERNANDEZ (through translator): -- to see if he's burned. And look, nothing is burned whatsoever. The horse hair and the tail are tied up. They start sweating and because of the sweat, the hair gets damp and so they don't burn at all.

VANIER: In bygone days, piles of pine and scrub branches would be carried by donkey and collected into small heaps to set on fire. But now, large amounts arrive by truck. Some locals say the piles are too high. Nevertheless, many see the festival as an important fixture in village life.

SONSOLES HERNANDEZ, FESTIVAL HORSE RIDER: For me, it is very special because, since I was a child, my dad brought me here. You have to live it.

VANIER: So for this year, at least, a tradition going back hundreds of years has been marked one more time.


VANIER: And millions of people here in the U.S. are bracing for a big winter storm. It will bring snow and ice to the North and heavy rain to the South.


VANIER: Thank you for watching CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Cyril Vanier. I'll be back in a moment.