Return to Transcripts main page


Senate Intel Subpoenas Cohen to Testify in February; Russian Pop Star Warned He May Not Be Able to Leave U.S. if He Enters; Senate Due to Vote on Competing Proposals to End Shutdown; Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired January 24, 2019 - 12:00   ET




JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Thank you, Kate, and welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. Thank you for sharing your day with us.

Big Senate votes this afternoon on competing plans to end the government shutdown, both almost certain to fail.

The question is, will the next step be a serious effort to negotiate?

Plus the president blinks and backs down in a State of the Union confrontation with Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Is it because his poll numbers are tanking?

Or is there some other White House calculation?

Joe Biden is back in the arena. No new clues on his 2020 decision but a humorous defense of his occasional gaffes and of his bipartisan instincts.


JOE BIDEN, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No one ever doubts I mean what I say. The problem is I sometimes say all that I mean.


BIDEN: And so no one has accused me of being coy. I get in trouble; I read in "The New York Times" today that one of my problems is, if I were to ever run for president, I like Republicans. OK, Bless me, Father, for I have sinned.


KING: Back to politics in a moment but we begin with a big and important new marker from the Senate Intelligence Committee.

A source close to the former Trump attorney, Michael Cohen, telling CNN the Intelligence Committee has now subpoenaed Cohen to appear in mid-February and to testify about what he knows about the president.

The questions no doubt will include this: what did the president say to you, if anything, when you discussed your testimony to Congress and what you knew in that testimony to be lies?

Cohen just yesterday canceled on the House Oversight Committee, pulling out of scheduled testimony. He cited unspecified threats against his family, threats his media adviser says the president and the president's lead lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, are encouraging.

The source says the Senate Intelligence subpoena doesn't change Cohen's security concerns, so it remains clear now how he will respond. With me to share their reporting and insights, CNN's Kara Scannell, CNN's Phil Mattingly and CNN's Sara Murray.

The Intelligence Committee, the timing of this tells you, Cohen backs out of the Oversight Committee; the Intelligence Committee says you're going to see us.

What is the significance?

What did they need to hear, want to hear, hope to hear from Michael Cohen?

KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's the committee Cohen lied to, so I think they have a vested interest in having him come back and they want to question him exactly as you laid out, why did he lie, what else is there to say?

But we've seen Cohen back away from the House testimony, saying -- both in terms of what he could talk about, saying he couldn't talk about some of the things he pleaded guilty to, both the lies and also the crimes he pled guilty to in New York, including the campaign finance violations.

So we've seen Cohen's team say he can't talk about those things. It sounded like he wanted to come in and give anecdotes about what it was like working for Trump and the Trump Organization for a decade and now he's coming back on that.

So we'll see how much the Senate wants to pursue that. We know the Democrats were interested in that but it also opens Michael Cohen up to a lot of personal scrutiny and that gets to what these threats were.

But Donald Trump mentioning his father-in-law, his wife. And when Cohen pleaded guilty, people close to Cohen had told us and we know from our other sources that the prosecutors were prepared to add charges that could have implicated his wife.

So Cohen really wants to protect his family and coming in and testifying would likely open the door for a lot of questions from Republicans about that.

KING: We're waiting to see if he will fight it. The Intel Committee normally operates behind closed doors. We don't have the specifics on that just yet, if that was the plan here.

Would that make a difference in Michael Cohen's ability to say, hey, wait a minute, I have security concerns or, wait a minute, I can't talk about certain things because Bob Mueller is still investigating?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN U.S. CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It could. I think it's important to note, one, we don't know whether or not it would be a public or a closed hearing but the Senate Intelligence Committee has operated in a different manner than their counterparts in the House.

The counterparts in the House were run by Republicans up until a couple of weeks ago, I guess. But the Intelligence Committee on the Senate side has been a bipartisan investigation for the most part. The chairman and vice chairman have gotten along very well. They've shared a lot of information. They have been very clear they want to have a serious investigation, not one that's driven along partisan lines.

So I would assume they want this to be behind closed doors because their issue is not what was it like working for President Trump and the Trump Organization. Their issue is you lied to us on these issues.

Why did you lie on these issues?

And I think we need to clear up. That's what the chairman, Richard Burr, has made clear over the course of last couple of months. Those are the answers he wants; that's what the vice chairman, Mark Warner, has said they want.

So their intentions, I think, are different than what the House is looking to do and I think their procedure in the last year and a half has shown they operate simply in a different manner that, in a way, I think that could address some of those concerns.

But I still think, as Karen pointed out, those concerns are very real.

KING: He canceled with the Oversight Committee or at least postponed. Now the Senate Intelligence Committee says it wants him to come in. Listen here; the House Intelligence Committee chairman, now a Democrat, so the world has changed. You mentioned the Republican-led Intelligence Committee investigations.

The new world in the House of Representatives, Adam Schiff says, we want to talk to Michael Cohen, too.




SCHIFF: -- to Mr. Cohen and his counsel that he'll come back before the Intelligence Committee. He came before our committee before; he did not tell the truth.

We want to hear what the truth is, so he's coming back before our committee; voluntarily, we hope. But we are prepared to subpoena him to come back if that's necessary and we're going to be doing that fairly soon.


KING: Three committees.

Some people would say, is that excessive?

Is there that much new material to be gleaned from Michael Cohen?

Or do the Democrats have authority now and they have a guy who has turned on Trump who will say things critical of Trump so they think this is just a political opening?

Is there more substance for Michael Cohen or is this politics?

SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): I think it depends on the committee. As Phil was saying, if you're looking at these House committees that are now run by Democrats, I think you can bet it's going to be a little bit more politics. The fact they wanted him to come and testify publicly, essentially, about anecdotes of working for Donald Trump doesn't really suggest to you they're trying to get to the heart of the matter of what's going on with the Russian investigation.

I think probably the Senate Intelligence Committee is a different story. And look, they do have every right to call him back if he did lie to them and try to get a better understanding of why he told those lies, who he may have communicated with when he was creating this false testimony.

And I'm sure they would have questions for him if it was behind closed doors about whether he interacted with the president at all when he was creating this testimony. I'm sure that's a question, both the House and the Senate, want to ask him.

But I think as Phil was pointing out, on the intel side, they've been a lot more careful, a lot more cautious and just a lot more quiet about what's been going on behind the scenes.

KING: And in public, we have seen the President of the United States on Twitter and in comments; Rudy Giuliani representing the president on television several times, suggests that there is some stuff they know about Michael Cohen and what Mr. Cohen has said, he feels his family is threatened. Listening to Lanny Davis. This is a legal adviser to Michael Cohen, here saying this is the President of the United States, in Lanny Davis' view, trying to intimidate the witness.


LANNY DAVIS, MICHAEL COHEN'S LEGAL ADVISER: The House of Representatives now has an obligation, a resolution of censure when the President of the United States indisputably intimidates and obstructs justice to prevent a witness from testifying. It's an order

So is a federal criminal investigation of Rudy Giuliani for witness tampering, calling out a man's father-in-law and wife in order to intimidate the witness is not fair game.


KING: I'm going to go out on a limb and say those things aren't going to happen. But you now have this public debate. The president would say, I'm just challenging Michael Cohen; I think he's a liar. Rudy Giuliani would say the president has every right to defend himself.

Is there a legal case to be made, that this is witness intimidation?

SCANNELL: I think it really is going to depend on what else the prosecutors might know around this.

Were there any other conversations that are not taking place in the public, on Twitter or in TV interviews, where there are other messages that are being sent?

If there are any threats that the family has received as a result of the president speaking. We've seen this before, where the president speaks and then people in the public, like Cesar Sayoc, the pipe bomber, take that as some sort of guidance and then act on it.

So we don't know if there are other threats that have existed, real threats to Michael Cohen or if he's feeling intimidated. But whether this is enough for some prosecutor to say that the president is engaged in witness tampering or obstruction, I think, is probably a tough call. It would be a stretch.

I think they would need to see a little bit more beyond that. Rudy Giuliani was kind of laying the groundwork for the defense there earlier when he spoke with Jake Tapper on Sunday, saying if anything is true or if there are any facts that are true, that would negate in a way of what Trump is saying about this.

KING: And listening to the president himself yesterday, he says Michael Cohen won't testify because he's afraid he'll get asked other questions he doesn't want to answer.


TRUMP: I would say he's been threatened by the truth. He's only been threatened by the truth and he doesn't want to do that probably for me or for other of his clients. He has other clients also, I assume, and he doesn't want to tell the truth for me or other of his clients.


KING: That's bravado there from the president but let's remember, it is because of Michael Cohen that we know the president's story during 2016 about hush money payments to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal was not true.

The president was involved; he knew about it, despite months of saying he knew nothing about it and people saying he knew nothing about it.

We also know from Michael Cohen, he said the Trump Tower Moscow conversations went on well into the 2016 campaign when the president and the people around the president said, oh, no; once he became a serious candidate, they had stopped by January.

So Michael Cohen, despite what the president says about him, has proven to be a very valuable witness in the case against Trump.

MURRAY: That's true but he's not entirely wrong with saying Michael Cohen has an issue with telling the entirety of the truth. If he had told the entire truth, the prosecutors in the Southern District of New York, he probably would not be going to jail for three years.

But part of the reason they said he deserved this prison times was because he was not willing to cooperate fully. He was not willing to share every deed that he has done that may have run afoul of the law because he was afraid it might implicate some of his family members. He was afraid of potentially other repercussions.

So I think President Trump actually has a point saying --


MURRAY: -- Michael Cohen has a problem telling the whole truth. The problem for the president is Michael Cohen doesn't seem to have any problem telling the whole truth when it comes to things that involve Donald Trump.

KING: That's a great point. And this reporting of the subpoena by the Senate Intelligence Committee is first on CNN, the legal adviser to Michael Cohen we just talked about, Lanny Davis, was on MSNBC just moments ago and was asked, will Michael Cohen honor the subpoena?

Will he testify?


ANDREA MITCHELL, MSNBC HOST: First of all, will he appear before the Senate?

He's been subpoenaed by the Intelligence Committee, we have been told.

DAVIS: Well, he has to comply with subpoenas and we have to have some reasonable conversations. Mr. Cummings, greatly respect and are grateful for his invitation for Mr. Cohen to appear voluntarily. But --


KING: Making a distinction there; it sounds like if he has a subpoena, he will testify. That's the Senate Committee. Then he went on to talk about Mr. Comey, says the chairman of the House Committee.

So it appears there, anyway, again, he's on television, asked this questions. The lawyers have to have conversations but it appears, he seems to be, that Michael Cohen is going to come if the Intelligence Committee wants.

MATTINGLY: Well, given that he was willing to come voluntarily 48 hours ago, I guess it would seem like a subpoena wouldn't be too far a bridge to cross. I keep going back to what the Intelligence Committee has done on the Senate side. Now they've been a little bit different than some of the fireworks, the circus atmosphere we've seen on the House side over the course of the last two years.

It's a serious committee and I would be willing to guess and bet that they would do a lot to try and make sure that his concerns are assuaged to some degree. I would note one other thing. The chairman of these committees, particularly on the House side, issued a bit of brushback statement to the president on the intimidation idea.

What Lanny Davis was laying out, I have no idea if there's a legal case there, I would tend to associate myself with you that probably not. But pay attention to that because while it's a statement and a statement doesn't have teeth, these chairmen do have teeth and they do have subpoena power.

What they're saying is, don't just lay off because we think you should lay off. They're saying, lay off, because we can go after you if you continue things like this. And it might not get into the courts or get into prosecutors or anything like that.

But their committee and their investigators could certainly start looking into something like this and start creating major problems for the White House.

KING: To that point, let me read you first, we're going to get to Kevin McCarthy, the Republican leader in a moment. But here's the Democratic statement you mentioned.

"Efforts to intimidate witnesses, scare their family members or prevent them from testifying before Congress are textbook mob tactics that we condemn in the strongest terms."

You're right; this is Elijah Cummings and Adam Schiff, both now chairmen, both who have subpoena power. This is something we also note, the special counsel has been watching. The White House says it's cooperating but are you trying to intimidate witnesses or obstruct justice?

This is Kevin McCarthy, who is the top House Republican. He told Manu Raju just moments ago, quote, "I don't know of any time the president threatened this individual. I know Cohen to be a liar and why he's going to jail so I don't agree with any of your premise. I haven't seen the president do anything."

And Manu said he raised concerns about the father-in-law; Kevin McCarthy apparently I'm living in a cave, says, "I haven't seen that."

There is -- look, these guys don't like to be asked questions about this. But the president has said there's stuff about his father-in- law and we know in the investigation to Michael Cohen -- you make a key point. Michael Cohen's personal finances, his business dealings were under investigation. So -- he's also asked about his interactions and relationship with the Trump Organization and the president, did some of the dirty work he did on behalf of the president.

There are questions about his father-in-law's involvement in some of the Cohen financial business things that came under investigation.

SCANNELL: That's right, he said he got into the taxi medallion business because of his father-in-law, he bought his first medallion from him. What we'd seen from a lot of the documents that we've looked at and we know that the search warrant for Michael Cohen's apartment, hotel room, was looking for some of his taxi medallion work.

His wife's name was on some of these documents. It doesn't mean she has any knowledge of what was going on. But just the mere fact that her name could be on a financial document could bring her criminal exposure.

We've seen this before, where people's wives and family members are threatened just by signing onto that, you make some liability or potential liability for yourself. And Michael Cohen has very much been concerned about that.

And that is exactly why, as Sara was saying, he did not enter into a full cooperation agreement with the Southern District of New York. They were looking at Michael Cohen's entire life. They're not doing the Russia investigation.

So it was huge exposure for Cohen to have to his family members and he just wasn't willing to do that. So he cut the deal he cut and then was hoping for more leniency with Mueller.

KING: And we've seen the president in other settings say I know things about you, whether it's other politicians or things. So you see (INAUDIBLE).

I want to add this one. This is, again, another example from the Russia investigation that we could not make up even if we tried.

A Russian pop star -- follow along -- whose billionaire father has ties to Vladimir Putin and who had his publicist arrange that now infamous June 2016 Trump Tower meeting, the pop star canceling a planned tour here in the United States.


He worries Robert Mueller could take him into custody and perhaps wouldn't let him leave.

Emin Agalarov -- tell me if I got that wrong -- tells CNN's "COVERLINE" in a new interview, quote, "At this point on Monday, I received the information from my lawyer that, if I do arrive, he can't guarantee the safety of my departure."

So there is no question Robert Mueller would want to talk to Emin because he did help arrange this Trump Tower meeting, where the --


KING: -- Russians with Kremlin ties came in, ostensibly to give dirt on Hillary Clinton.

Is he that much at risk that if he comes to the United States he could be taken into custody or they just want to question him?

What are we looking at here?

SCANNELL: It's definitely a risk. We've seen Robert Mueller's team stop Russian oligarchs, individuals and more than half a dozen people at the airport and detain them for questioning. Now he's let them go. No one has been held in custody.

But the question here with Emin Agalarov is that Mueller's team has been trying to interview him for over a year and they've never been able to reach the terms of this because he's a Russian; he's not within the U.S. jurisdiction.

So this was one opportunity when Emin was coming to New York on Saturday for a concert tour. His lawyer told me the real concern is he would be held as on a material witness warrant and that they would just keep him as long as they wanted to question him. That could be Mueller; that could be all these congressional committees we're talking about.

And it leaves a lot of uncertainty. They also did not want to be subpoenaed because that exposes them to even more obligations, potential exposure to crimes, like if there was a subpoena for documents and then it turns out they didn't turn over all the documents and that could be an obstruction of justice charge.

So this is really trying and saying, OK, Emin's not doing this tour. We'll all going to have to wait. Hopefully we can get refunds on our tickets.


SCANNELL: I'm crushed, Phil, I really am.

This is just something they're not willing to take on this legal exposure.

KING: Phil had a (INAUDIBLE) box.

We're joking about it but, again, you start thinking a Russian pop star whose billionaire father is close to Vladimir Putin and you start getting a little dizzy with it all but he is a significant material witness into how that meeting came about, who pushed for it and why.

It's a fascinating story. Thank you all for coming up for that conversation, a lot of moving parts today.

Up next, two bills to end the shutdown dead on arrival in the Senate. But heartland voters not too pleased about it.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you think the shutdown is worth the wall?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, I do not. I think it's a waste of time and money and it's caused way more problems than it's helping anything.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's definitely not worth a wall for the government to be completely shut down for this.






KING: Welcome back to, yes, looming failure on the Senate floor. In a couple hours, the Senate will consider two opposing bills designed to end the partial government shutdown. Today's procedural votes marking the first floor votes on anything in the Senate to address the shutdown since it began 34 days ago.

Both bills need 60 votes to pass, meaning neither likely to get there. Few, if any, Democrats, for example, would accept a proposal coming from the president and the Republicans, which includes $5.7 billion for the president's border wall. Only a handful of Republicans may be shy of that, expected to vote for the Democrats' proposal, a bill that would temporarily reopen the government without wall money.

Who is expected to cross party lines?

So far we know of two Republican senators, Cory Gardner and Susan Collins; House Speaker Nancy Pelosi last hour seeming less than optimistic that today's votes over on the Senate side would lead to fresh, big negotiations.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (INAUDIBLE) valuable. It's been more than a week now since you've spoken face-to-face.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CALIF.), HOUSE SPEAKER: It's the President of the United States who we'll meet anytime he wants to meet. And I've never discouraged anybody from meeting with the president.


KING: Joining us here in the studio, Catherine Lucey with the Associated Press; Perry Bacon with FiveThirtyEight and "Politico's" Eliana Johnson.

Is that just the Speaker's positioning?

There was some hope that -- you get two votes today. The Senate finally does something and everybody understands the math a little bit better and then you go into a room and do traditional Washington dealmaking.


ELIANA JOHNSON, "POLITICO": That doesn't seem likely to happen right now. What's been so fascinating to me about this is, in a briefing with reporters on Saturday, vice president Mike Pence and senior adviser Jared Kushner, who had been leading these negotiations, were saying that perhaps this could be a jumping off point for further negotiations but the president, who had conservatives into the White House yesterday for a second meeting and he is apparently having another one today, said he is not budging.

And he was really pressed by those people not to negotiate with himself or to give another inch on this.

So two different messages as often coming out of the administration, one from the president's advisers, one from the president himself. And I think we know who to listen to on that one.

KING: Yes, I agree with you 100 percent. The flip side, 30 centrist Democrats sending a letter to Nancy Pelosi, saying promise the president a vote on his proposal. If he reopens the government, say you will bring to the floor of the House his proposal.

The president -- this is a game of chicken -- Democrats said reopen the government and then we'll negotiate; the president said, if I do that, I lose my leverage. I want my wall money as part of a deal to reopen the government.

Would that be enough if Nancy Pelosi said, Mr. President, you reopen the government tomorrow and, within 48 hours, I'll do just what they're doing in the Senate. I'll bring a couple things to the floor and let the chips fall where they may.

MATTINGLY: The issue with that is that was Lindsey Graham's proposal to the president. The president rejected it to Lindsey Graham's face and then rejected it publicly as well. That's what Senate Republicans and Democrats and the gang of -- not succeeding up to this point -- have produced a couple times.

They tried to get a draft letter that the administration worked against to basically kill. I think the hard part -- you laid out the baseline that remains the reality. This is not an issue, not a dynamic where there is policy that can be threaded, there's a needle that can be threaded on the policy to make something happen.

We've talked for weeks about, well, here is a logical way to end this. And I can tell you on the policy side, staffers in both chambers in both parties have a pretty good idea of how to thread this needle and give everybody what they want and nobody too much of what they don't want. Until one side or the other comes off of the baseline of, you have to

reopen the government or you have to give me wall money, there's no way to thread the needle. And I think one of the things that people have been thinking is these votes fail; people get in the room. They talk; perhaps the runway out of this is just that.

We reopen the government now and in three weeks we guarantee X will happen.

But why is the president going to sign off on that, when people have said that about immigration politics and policy in general for months, years even, and it hasn't turned out to be anything?

KING: Especially if you have these votes; they start in the 2 o'clock hour. They prove to the president, I'm not going to get my wall money. So that's part of the issue is, will he, in the end, accept something where he doesn't get guaranteed --


KING: -- nearly $6 billion for the wall. He could get maybe a 45 billion plan out of the House that says some barriers, some this and some that, everybody interprets it the way they want. But that's a traditional Washington. We're not there, at least as yet.

The question is -- we'll talk in a few minutes about the president's staredown with Nancy Pelosi and the president blinking last night over the State of the Union.

But is the president's position eroding?

The answer to that is yes if you look at public opinion polling. But does it matter to him?

He's out of the box, unconventional president. He does things his way. He won without winning the popular vote and he's different.

Do you approve or disapprove of the Donald Trump is handling border security?

This is a FOX News poll; 43 percent approve, 53 percent disapprove. Among the people getting in his face today is his former chief of staff, John Kelly, who is a hardliner on immigration. Let's (INAUDIBLE) John Kelly is taking a shot at the president.

Remember, when he was chief of staff, he was with the president on the wall in a hardline immigration. He just doesn't think the shutdown is worth it. It's part of a note from several former DHS secretaries, DHS employees, who protect the traveling public, investigate counterterrorism and protect critical infrastructures should not have to rely on the charitable generosity of others for assistance in feeding their families and paying their bills while they steadfastly focus on the mission at hand. This is unconscionable.

(CROSSTALK) CATHERINE LUCEY, ASSOCIATED PRESS: I'm not sure that a message strongly worded from John Kelly is going to (INAUDIBLE) the president --



SCANNELL: -- no evidence (INAUDIBLE) when he was inside the White House. And as I mentioned, the president yesterday met with conservatives, he had a call with state and local leaders and his message was very clear.

He repeatedly said Republicans have to hang together. He said that he's not going to cave. And he, I think, while polling obviously is not going well for him overall, sees that polling with Republican -- his numbers remain very strong with Republicans and, again, as we've discussed ad nauseam on the show, views this as the issue that brought him to the White House.


LACEY: This is a fight he wants to have.

KING: As you jump in, Perry, part of this is messaging. You're in a standoff; the government, the people are watching. This is Wilbur Ross, the Commerce Secretary. I'm going to guess this is not the way -- not the way -- a political pro would tell you to message the shutdown.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Secretary, there are reports that there are some federal workers who are going to homeless shelters to get food.

WILBUR ROSS, COMMERCE SECRETARY: Well, I know they are and I don't really quite understand why.

The obligations that they would undertake, say, of borrowing from a bank or a credit union are, in effect, federally guaranteed. So the 30 days of pay that some people will be out, there's no real reason why they shouldn't be able to get a loan against it.


KING: You're trying to get your kids to school, you can't pay for gas, you're having trouble paying for food but, yes, go ahead and fill out the paperwork and go get a loan.

What's the big deal?

PERRY BACON, FIVETHIRTYEIGHT: The one thing is the polls are showing the White House is losing -- but really this is about -- we're not having an election anytime soon -- the Republicans and Congress are standing with him. This vote today will show again two defections means 51 people will stand. Maybe they'll have four defections. Either way, the Republicans in Congress have stood with the strategy,

even as this fails politically, and that's huge. As long as he's got the Congress with him, nothing else really matters.

KING: That's a great point.

My question is, after today, is there anything behind the scenes, say, Mr. President, this is a big public vote. I want to be with you.

Is there something behind the scenes?

That's the part we'll see play out. We'll see these votes first and see what happens after.

Up next, some conservatives have some blunt feedback for the president's decision to stand down from his State of the Union address.