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Giuliani on Cohen Testimony; Trump Tower Discussions; Outrage over Viral Video; Convoy Targeted in Syria. Aired 9:30-10a ET

Aired January 21, 2019 - 09:30   ET



[09:32:08] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Rudy Giuliani now says that President Trump might have spoken to Michael Cohen about his congressional testimony prior to his testimony. The president's lawyer telling CNN he does not know for sure but he said that even if discussions did happen, so what?


RUDY GIULIANI, ATTORNEY FOR PRESIDENT TRUMP: President Trump did not have discussions with him, certainly had no discussions with him in which he told him or counseled him to lie. If he had any discussions with him, they'd be about the version of the events that Michael Cohen gave them.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR, "STATE OF THE UNION": But you just acknowledged that it's possible that President Trump talked to Michael Cohen about his testimony.

GIULIANI: Which would be perfectly normal. Which the president believed was true.

TAPPER: So, it's possible -- but you just acknowledged that President Trump--

GIULIANI: If Corsi --

TAPPER: Might have talked to him about -- about his testimony.

GIULIANI: And so what if he talked to him about it.

TAPPER: Well, is it not --


SCIUTTO: So what says the president's lawyer.

Joining us now, CNN national security and legal analyst, Susan Hennessey. She's also a former national security agency attorney. Knows a thing or two about the law.

So what if the president of the United States speaks to a witness in an investigation in which the president is involved prior to his testimony.

SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY AND LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I think, first and foremost, so what because we know that the testimony that was ultimately submitted was false. So sort of even setting that aside, it's really unusual --

SCIUTTO: That's a good point because -- so the president spoke to him prior to giving false testimony.

HENNESSEY: Exactly. So I think there's serious substantive questions. But also just sort of as a process basis, it's really unusual for a witness or subject of this kind of investigation to talk about testimony in advance. Lawyers will tell you not to do this precisely for these reasons. You're going to open yourself up to questions about suborning perjury, witness tampering, obstruction of justice. And so that's why, you know, so what sort of as a lawyer, it's pretty surprising to hear it come from Rudy Giuliani.

SCIUTTO: I have to imagine that the former New York attorney -- district attorney, Rudy Giuliani, who prosecuted, say, mob bosses, might have been concerned if a mob boss spoke to a witness in a trial or anybody spoke to a witness prior to testimony.

HENNESSEY: Right, this is the kind of thing that would -- would concern any prosecutor of any type because you don't want people to be coordinating testimony in advance. You want people to come forward and tell the truth.

SCIUTTO: So the other -- the other kind of highlight of Giuliani, or revelation you might say, is that these discussions of a Trump Tower Moscow, that Michael Cohen had initially said ended in January 2016, long before the election heated up. We then learned it went to June at least, but Rudy Giuliani says it continued right up until Election Day. Significance?

HENNESSEY: I think it's significant in part because this means that Donald Trump is pursuing a private deal with a foreign adversary at the same time that he is calling for Obama-era sanctions to be lifted, right?


HENNESSEY: And so the big sort of question, Donald Trump's stuck -- sort of staked out a position on Russia, pro-Russia position, that was at odds, not just with Democrats, but also Republicans. So the question through the campaign really was sort of, why? Why was it -- why did he want these sanctions to be lifted? Now we have a story that says that he -- one of the reasons is because up through Election Day, he actually is pursuing his sort of personal financial interests. So it raises serious questions about sort of the degree of compromise.

[09:35:03] SCIUTTO: Now, you -- having worked in the National Security Agency, you know how Russia operates. Would Russia, if it was seeking to influence a candidate, a political candidate in the U.S., keep alive a lucrative business deal as a means of influence? HENNESSEY: Right. So we've seen sort of the model by which they use,

both the carrot and the stick. The threat of something holding over you, but also an incentive, a reason to want to sort of favor their interests. And so I do think that this is something that the -- is sort of right out of the Russian playbook. And, notably, this is something that, as a candidate, Donald Trump would have been and reportedly was warned about, right, that these kinds of -- that the Russians use these tactics in order to ultimately compromise people.

SCIUTTO: Susan Hennessey, thanks very much.

Brand-new video this morning showing what led up to this stare down between a teenager and a Native American elder. What is the whole story behind this viral video? We think it's really important that you watch and listen.


[09:40:20] SCIUTTO: Take a moment here now to listen. The new -- new video has emerged giving a different perspective and a deeper look at a controversial encounter between a white high school student and an elderly Native American man. In short, the viral video that directed so much outrage at students from a Kentucky high school did not tell the full story and appears to undermine at least some of the worst accusations against them.

This video, taken at the Lincoln Memorial in D.C. on Friday, sparked a fierce backlash. It seems as if the student in that MAGA hat is mocking the man as he chants and beats on a drum. But the student says this small snippet of video was unfair to him and his classmates. So we had CNN's Sara Sidner take a deep dive.


SARA SIDNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): The Catholic high school student who comes face-to-face with a Native American elder in a viral video is now responding. In a statement, student Nick Sandmann says the viral video does not reflect the true nature of events when the students arrived at the Lincoln Memorial.

When we arrived, we noticed four African-American protesters who were also on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, he said. The protesters said hateful things. Indeed, a small group of black men, who identify as Hebrew Israelites, did say hateful things to seemingly everyone around them, including a priest.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let's make America great again. A bunch of child molesting (EXPLETIVE DELETED).

SIDNER: And the students.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: See how you got these pompous bastards come down here in the middle of a native rally with their dirty ass hat on.

SIDNER: When a black visitors tries to stand up against their rhetoric, he faces hate, too. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Who you ain't -- you got all these dirty ass

crackers behind you with a red -- with a red make America great hat again on and you coon ass you want to fight your brother.

SIDNER: At first the Catholic students there for the March for Life are still in small numbers but more and more show up, watching but not engaging. The small group of men continue taunting them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A bunch of incest babies. A bunch of babies made out of incest.

SIDNER: Sandmann says the rhetoric was startling. Because we were being loudly attacked and taunted in public, a student asked one of our teacher chaperons for permission to begin school spirit chants to counter the hateful things that were being shouted at our group. And they do.

At one point a student removes his shirt and the chants drown everything out. Two minutes later, you hear a drum beat. That is Nathan Phillips, an Omaha tribe elder, and another drummer. Phillips says it was their attempt to thwart potential violence. The kids danced to it. They began chanting along.

NATHAN PHILLIPS, NATIVE AMERICAN DRUMMER: I realized I had put myself in a really dangerous situation, you know. It was like, here is a group of people who were angry at somebody else, and I put myself in front of that.

SIDNER: Phillips, a Vietnam veteran, walks around. Other students avoid him. Until you see him come face-to-face with the student who has now gone viral. In his statement, the student says he was the one trying to de-escalate the situation, not Phillips. I believe that by remaining motionless and calm I was helping to defuse the situation. I realized everyone had cameras and that perhaps a group of adults was trying to provoke a group of teenagers into a larger conflict.

Sandmann has every opportunity to move back. So does Phillips. Neither do.

While they faced off, kids faced more taunting from the Hebrew Israelite group.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is a bunch of future school shooters.


SIDNER: While Phillips maintains he felt the kids were mocking him and being rude, Sandmann says it was the adults using hateful words and trying to provoke the kids, not the other way around.


SIDNER: So you see there the kids standing around. And, look, there is some video of the kids doing a tomahawk chop, which the Native American elders and others there say was very disrespectful and that they felt like they were being taunted. But we are getting some reaction from a congressman who had said,

look, I looked at that initial viral video, as did the Catholic Diocese that's over the Covington School, and basically the Covington School said, look, we condemn these kids for what they did to the Native Americans, especially Nathaniel Phillips that you see there. We condemn their behavior and we're investigating. The mayor also came out and said, look, we condemn what these students did. This is not who we are.

But when it comes to the congressman, he says, look, I looked at the video, the entire thing, and he basically says, look, I am not condemning these kids. I am standing with these kids because they faced so much hatred and bigotry and racial slurs that were thrown at them that Congressman Thomas Macy says I actually am proud of these kids because they did not respond to the four or five African- Americans who were there who were hurling, you know, really nasty words at them.


[09:45:23] SCIUTTO: Sara, stay with us.

I also want to bring in CNN's senior political analyst John Avlon.

But, Sara, I don't want to make you make a final judgment on this --


SCIUTTO: But having looked at all the -- you know, the more than an hour of video leading up to it, and heard the Sandmann statement and statement from others involved, do you believe that the initial portrayal of this as being offensive behavior on the part of these students was unfair to them?

SIDNER: I think it's really hard to say because if you do look at that initial video, there is certainly a sense that everybody is not happy- go-lucky. Now, as I put in the story, the child, the student there, could have stepped back. So could have the adult there, Nathan Phillips. He, too, could have stepped back. And you do see, as you're watching this video, the Native American elder there, Nathan Phillips, walking around. Other students kind of avoid him, (INAUDIBLE). And when he comes up to this student, the student is clearly standing, you know, right there. They're both in each other's faces. And it is very uncomfortable.

But I can't feel what either of them were feeling. Nathan Phillips says he felt that there was a nastiness going on around him, that there was mockery going on around him, and the student says, no, I felt that this was getting out of hand and that he was being disrespectful. So it is really about their own personal feelings. And I can't judge that at all.

But certainly the people who started all this tension were the gentlemen calling themselves Hebrew Israelites who were slinging all sorts of nastiness towards these kids. SCIUTTO: Yes. John Avlon, I mean, this shows the danger of the digital

age, does it not, because a tiny snippet of video that perhaps doesn't characterize the entire encounter can go viral, as it did here. And, really, in this case, affect the lives of young people. This is -- this is the kind of place we are in now, is it not?

JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Sure. Look, it's a cautionary tale about the danger of social media creating mob mentalities. And that's exactly what we're trying to push back upon. It reminds us that the truth is rarely pure and never simple and that context is key. And once you did look at the entire video, you got a more complex sense of the dynamics.

And like in some ways it's instructive. I mean Sara's excellent piece points out, it was this group, the so-called Hebrew Israelites, which is a separatist nationalist group, which really started by hurling this hate and invective, which is what they do. And that starts off this larger -- this larger cycle. But so much of our cultural and political debates today are a powder keg. And when you take it out of context, it exacerbates it even further.

So it's necessary to view it in a larger context, and that's why I think Sara's piece does so well. Take a deep breath and get the facts.

SCIUTTO: Should folks (ph) have waited for this moment before piping in?

SIDNER: Can I just add something in -- in, Jim?

SCIUTTO: If I can -- sure, you can.


SCIUTTO: But that's a key question. I mean I suppose it gets to that issue, wait, learn the facts first.

SIDNER: Yes, and I think we -- you know, as journalists, we want to do that. But what has happened -- your question is exactly what I was going to answer, so we're thinking on the same page.

SCIUTTO: OK. Perfect.

SIDNER: We are treating -- in general, the media as a whole, and I'm talking about social media first, because that's where this went viral. It wasn't as if no one had seen this video before it hit CNN, ABC, CBS, NBC. It was viral. And when we see those, I think that we all sort of treat it like breaking news, as if we have to go forward and immediately find out and immediately put it on and immediately start talking about it because everyone seems to be talking about it on social media.


SIDNER: Thousands and thousands of people or already tens of thousands of people are already having discussions and making judgments. And we, as companies and journalists, do need to take a deep breath and say, OK, here's this piece slice of life. We've all seen slices of life that don't actually turn out to be exactly what you're seeing there. And you can take away whatever you want from that initial video, but you do need to see context. And that's something that we need to be sure to do. And this needs to be a discussion that we have amongst ourselves. We certainly do discuss it quite often. But, you know, this is one of those where the context was extremely important.

SCIUTTO: And, sadly, social media can often be a context-free zone, right?


AVLON: Sure.

SCIUTTO: And it's an encouragement to take your time.

Listen, John and Sara, it's a complicated issue. I know we're going to keep discussing this and the larger picture as well, but I hope you get some time on your holiday.

Coming up, a new attack on an American military convoy in Syria. This comes as Turkey tells the United States it is ready to protect Syria's northern region. Do we believe them?

[09:50:02] Stay with us.


SCIUTTO: Just hours ago, another bombing targeted U.S. and Syrian forces in northern Syria. There were no U.S. casualties thankfully. But this comes a day after Turkish President Erdogan told President Trump that his country is ready to secure the troubled region of northeastern Syria, where you'll remember, just five days ago, four Americans were killed in a suicide bombing.

CNN's Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr joins us now.

Barbara, what do we know about this latest attack?


As you look at that video, clearly another roadside bomb attack in northern Syria. As you say, thankfully no U.S. troops injured in this. But a lot of sensitivity because of the attack last week that killed four Americans. And because President Trump and Turkish President Erdogan had a phone call yesterday. The two leaders talking about the situation in northern Syria. Mr. Trump, according to the White House, expressing concern about terrorism in the region and getting some sort of security arrangement in that area.

[09:55:26] But the Turkish leaders saying that they are ready to take over this part security arrangements and monitor this area of northern Syria in terms that they would like the U.S. troops out of there and they want to take at least some responsibility for it because they believe the terrorists are in the area and the U.S. believes it is backing local fighters. So a lot to work out here about the security in this very unsettled region.

SCIUTTO: Barbara Starr, thanks very much.

STARR: Sure.

SCIUTTO: Think about this, the TSA says that most of its scheduled absences are from employees who say they cannot come to work because of financial limitations. How safe does that make you feel?