Return to Transcripts main page

CNN NEWSROOM

Roger Stone Arraigned on Charges of Obstruction, Witness Tampering; Matt Whitaker Says Mueller Probe is Close to Being Completed. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired January 29, 2019 - 09:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[09:00:10] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: A very good Tuesday morning to you. I'm Jim Sciutto.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Poppy Harlow. This morning one of the president's most ardent supporters and longstanding confidant is due before a federal judge in Washington. Roger Stone is expected to plead not guilty to seven charges arising from his allegedly dishonest testimony about the Trump presidential campaign and WikiLeaks and Democratic e-mails stolen by Russians.

And while he's still a very long way from trial, we now have the strongest signals yet that the special counsel's investigation which produced his own indictment and many others is winding down.

SCIUTTO: No less than Robert Mueller's boss, the acting attorney general Matthew Whitaker sent eyebrows raising all over Washington when he told reporters that the probe is close to being completed. Not clear if that was a personal opinion.

Not only that but Whitaker said that he has been fully briefed, leaving Democrats to wonder whether the president has been fully briefed as well.

CNN's Sara Murray is at the D.C. federal courthouse where Stone will be arriving in the next hour.

Tell us what he's facing today. Seven counts, these are serious charges.

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: They are serious charges. You know, this will be his arraignment here in D.C. federal court. As you pointed out, these are seven charges. It's obstruction of justice. It's bearing false witness, lying as well as tampering with witnesses. And this, a lot of this has to do with his testimony to congressional investigators.

You know, we saw obviously Robert Mueller's team took a pretty heavy handed approach when it came to Roger Stone's arrest. And you know, Roger Stone has taken his own interesting tactic in dealing with that arrest. In this indictment he's been all over, doing essentially a media blitz, going after Mueller, going after his team.

We are expecting him to come into court today and plead not guilty and afterwards, Jim, this probably won't surprise you, we're expecting Roger Stone to speak to the cameras.

SCIUTTO: Imagine that. He likes to do that. And is it possible that more charges could come against Stone either today or in days and weeks following this?

MURRAY: You know, it's certainly possible. One of the things we've heard from Roger Stone out there is he called these process crimes. You know, he says he has not been charged with conspiracy, and that's true. But we got an interesting signal last night that there may be more to come with Roger Stone. And that has to do with the case of Andrew Miller. He's one of Roger Stone's former aides. And Andrew Miller is challenging a grand jury subpoena. He's challenging Mueller's authority in court, and his attorney got word yesterday from the government that they still want Andrew Miller's testimony.

They are going to follow this court challenge through. And that tells you that they want his testimony for something other than the indictment that Roger Stone is currently facing. That suggested there may be a superseding indictment coming toward Roger Stone. Perhaps more charges to come -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: Lots of unanswered questions. Sara Murray, thanks very much.

HARLOW: All right. Let's bring in Laura Jarrett at the Justice Department.

So, Laura, you know, when it comes anything about Robert Mueller and the Russia probe, it just takes a few words in front of an open mic to start a controversy. Especially if they come from the acting attorney general, right? Walk us through exactly what he said.

LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: That's right. We all pay attention any time Mueller's name is mentioned.

HARLOW: Yes.

JARRETT: Especially from Mueller's boss, the acting attorney general, who offered a rare glimpse into what is going on with the status of the investigation something the Justice Department never talks about, especially in public to reporters the way that Whitaker did yesterday. And while he didn't provide a precise timetable of when Mueller's probe will wind down, he made it pretty clear that we are in the end of days and that he's been kept up to speed on the status of the investigation. Take a listen to how exactly he described it to us.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEW WHITAKER, ACTING ATTORNEY GENERAL: You know, I have been fully briefed on the investigation. And, you know, I look forward to Director Mueller delivering the final report. But right now, you know, the investigation is, I think, close to being completed, and I hope that we can get the report from Director Mueller as soon as we -- as possible.

(END VIDEO CLIP) JARRETT: Now, of course, the big question is how soon is soon and how close is close? And why would Whitaker do this, especially right now? But putting aside all those questions, it also raises an issue of whether this is the last of any of the indictments that we will see Mueller produce. Obviously, we've seen dozens of people charged so far, the latest being Roger Stone, the president's longtime confidant. But whether that's the last one this is a real question now. And what happened to the follow-up questions that Mueller had for the president? We still don't know the status of that. And whether Whitaker will really have anything to do with Mueller's final report, I think, is a fair question because the timing here is so important given that the president has nominated someone else, Bill Barr, to be the permanent attorney general. So if he is confirmed by the Senate, that decision will really be left up to him -- Poppy, Jim.

[09:05:04] HARLOW: OK. Laura Jarrett, thanks for the update from the Justice Department.

SCIUTTO: Let's speak about this now with our panel. CNN national security and legal analyst Susan Hennessey. She's also a former National Security Agency attorney, and Mike Rogers, CNN national security commentator and former House Intelligence Committee chairman.

Thanks to both of you as always.

Mile, if I can begin with you, Sarah Sanders asked from the White House podium yesterday if the president would pardon Roger Stone. Her answer, she says, I'm not going to talk about hypotheticals that are just ridiculous. Not ridiculous because the president has deliberately left the option of pardons open in his public comment.

In your view, would a pardon be politically palatable? And would the president care about the politics?

MIKE ROGERS, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY COMMENTATOR: Well, I think it depended if you wanted to run for president again. I don't think it's politically palatable to do that and then seek re-election for office. And I think, if you read the original indictment of Roger Stone that they even indicated in there, the prosecution indicated that there is likely charges to be filed subsequent to this.

HARLOW: Right.

ROGERS: And so -- that he was still under investigation, meaning that there is more to this story than we're seeing in the original indictment. So I think it gets harder, not easier, for the president to even offer that pardon. And, you know, as the weight of those charges go, I know that Roger Stone is talking pretty tough today. But if the weight of those charges grow and the severity of those charges grow, it's going to be pretty hard for him, I think, to hold this position that he's not going to talk.

And by the way, he left it open. I know everybody said he's not going to testify against the president. He left it open by saying they won't make me lie on behalf of the president. Well, there is a lot of truth in there that may or may not get people in trouble. I think that's a big out for him.

SCIUTTO: That's a good point.

HARLOW: It is a good point.

Suzanne, to you, you know, as Chairman Rogers just alluded to, potential superseding indictment for Roger Stone. And then at the same time in the same, you know, 12-hour period of learning that, we've learned that -- heard from the acting AG that he thinks that the Mueller probe is pretty close to wrapping up. I mean, he's been fully briefed on it.

Do you think that's his opinion or is that a statement of fact? And how bizarre is it to come out and say something like that publicly?

SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY AND LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, so I think that this does go to sort of a credibility issue. We just don't know because acting Attorney General Whitaker hasn't built up a ton of credibility on the issue. It's not clear whether or not he was making this statement sort of off the cuff. Now if he has been briefed, then he is an individual who would be in a position to know and statements should be credited.

That said there is a lot of indications, everything from the possibility that Mueller is going to pursue additional indictments to Roger Stone to some of the sensitivities that appear to surrounding the testimony of Michael Cohen in Congress. Some indication that Mueller is concerned about protecting ongoing investigative equities that would indicate that no, this probe isn't necessarily sort of nearing completion.

So of course, the devil is in the details. What does he mean by sort of nearing completion when we're almost two years into this. You know, but it actually does point to a larger problem, which is when the acting attorney general stands up from the Department of Justice and says something from a podium, the American people don't know what he says and they don't know whether or not they can trust his word.

SCIUTTO: The other comment is just a simple one, Mike Rogers. Him saying that he's been fully briefed on the investigation, which is of course his right as the acting attorney general. Should we, therefore, assume that he has briefed the president on what he knows about the investigation? And should that be concerning? Would that provide the opportunity for the investigation to be compromised in some way?

ROGERS: Well, you know, I wouldn't make that presumption. But even if it were, I'm not sure I'd be worried about it at this point. I think this investigation is fully baked. And I think what the attorney general -- acting attorney general may have discussed is he probably was briefed. Hey, this thing is coming to a close. It's getting close.

I think the extension of the grand jury was the protection of the investigation to make those last minute, hey, we're going to drag you in front of the grand jury opportunities for them. And I think most people, both sides of the aisle, would agree that it really needs to wrap up in 2019. So I don't think there is any real big story here of, hey, it's kind of wrapping up. All of the people that the special counsel wanted to talk to they've really gotten that opportunity. People are cooperating.

We kind of know now that they've said hey, Cohen didn't do it right. You know, Stone is not fully cooperating that's why the indictment looks the way it is. Manafort isn't getting it right. That's why we're charging him. So it's starting to settle in on the people who are cooperating and providing information. You are seeing their sentences lightened and the sentencing postponed.

So I think all of that kind of signals to me this thing is probably wrapping up. I think that Mueller has the story that this investigation will tell. And I think he's pretty much done with that. So I'm not even worried. Even if he briefed the acting attorney general was briefed on the case and briefed the president.

[09:10:04] I'm not sure that's going to be a big deal here. I think what's going to happen is going to happen and there is just no stopping that train now.

HARLOW: And Chairman Rogers, because you used to chair the committee, we've learned that Michael Cohen, the president's former attorney, will appear behind closed doors between the House Intelligence Committee.

Potentially we're going to see three congressional panels, two private, maybe one public as well. Yes, he's admitted to lying before Congress. What is the most significant thing that you think is still to be learned from Michael Cohen?

ROGERS: Well, obviously, he lied to the Intelligence committee and that was the basis for some of the charges that were brought against him.

HARLOW: Right.

ROGERS: I think it's very important for him to go to that community. And I applaud them for doing this behind closed doors. I know that's not a popular decision, but it's right. If you're going to conduct an investigation on that particular side, meaning what words the campaign's relationship with the Russians, if any, then you need to get that piece straight. So he should have that opportunity to go in, in that classified and closed session to have the -- answer those questions truthfully this time.

On the public hearing, I think what you're going to see and what worries me is this thing could turn into a pretty big circus about trying to find everything that people don't like about Donald Trump. And I have never been a believer that committees should investigate for political purposes at any time. And I worry a little bit about that.

I think the Democrats are salivating because they thought, oh, my gosh, we're going to get to talk about every crazy thing that Cohen has done and why we don't like the president because of it. I just don't think that's appropriate either. I think that's what you'll find in some of that public hearing. Private -- closed hearing, getting to the facts, I think that would be an important thing to do. And I applaud the Intelligence Committee for doing that this go around.

SCIUTTO: Susan, I want to get your reaction but just moments ago on Capitol Hill, Adam Schiff, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, asked about his concerns about Matthew Whitaker's comments yesterday. Have a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Is it appropriate for Matt Whitaker to be fully briefed about the special counsel's investigation?

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: Not in my view because he should have recused himself, as the ethic lawyers at Justice recommended. And I certainly don't think he should be publically opining about the special counsel's investigation. The special counsel is more than capable of speaking for himself.

RAJU: Do you think that -- I mean, that this investigation he said is almost over. Is that cause some concern for you?

SCHIFF: I have full confidence that Bob Mueller can make the decision about when to wrap up and how much more work needs to be done. I have no confidence that Mr. Whitaker can make those judgments.

RAJU: And you're also getting Michael Cohen in closed door --

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCIUTTO: Susan Hennessey, you have been listening to those comments there. I know Mike Rogers said listen, the investigation is fully baked. There is not much interference that can happen here. You heard Adam Schiff there. Different point of view. What are your thoughts before we go?

HENNESSEY: And so I do think it is potentially quite problematic if acting Attorney General Whitaker actually briefed the president. We've seen the president engaged in a lot of highly questionable and potentially obstructive conduct, and so this is a case in which we would especially want to see sort of care and diligence.

Now there is also a question about even if this -- the underlying information is true, the investigation is coming to an end. Whether or not Matt Whitaker made those comments in order to sort of help mount a little bit of pressure, right, create that situation, I think that this does all point to the importance of those oversight hearings. Whitaker is expected to appear before House committees. And he is going to have to ask these questions.

I think one of the most important questions will be whether or not he will still be the acting general at that time or a new attorney general will be replaced.

HARLOW: Right. A really important question.

Susan, thanks so much, and Mike Rogers. We appreciate you both being here as always.

So in just minutes, the head of every major U.S. intelligence agency will be before a Senate panel right in this room testifying about the top national security threats in this country. It happens every year. And it's significant. The head of the FBI, CIA, NSA, the director of National Intelligence will all lay out those big cyber threats and other threats facing the U.S. from Russia and other hostile foreign powers. We'll bring you live updates from the Hill.

SCIUTTO: Yes, two countries you're going to hear about a lot there, Russia and China.

HARLOW: China.

SCIUTTO: No question.

HARLOW: Yes.

SCIUTTO: A growing number of Democrats gearing up to fight the president. But does the president have a whole other battle to worry about? A new poll shows that 56 percent of Americans would not vote to re-elect him.

HARLOW: That's a big deal. We're going to dive into that. Also, turmoil continues in Venezuela this morning. The U.S. is wrapping up efforts to try to force out President Maduro, slapping significant new sanctions on the country's state-owned oil industry.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[09:15:00] POPPY HARLOW, CO-HOST, NEWSROOM: All right, welcome back. Senator Kamala Harris makes her case at a fascinating Cnn town hall in Iowa last night, she says she is the strongest Democrat to go toe-to- toe with President Trump.

JIM SCIUTTO, CO-HOST, NEWSROOM: The California senator laying out what her presidency would look like, promising a middle class tax cut and doubling down on her call for Medicare for all. Cnn's Kyung Lah is live in Des Moines, Iowa with more. It was quite a performance, a lot of hard questions there as well for the senator.

KYUNG LAH, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: A very wide-ranging questions, Jim, and Poppy. Harris certainly never said the president's name, but as she was answering that wide range of questions, he was certainly the undercurrent through much of this town hall. Harris drawing a sharp contrast between herself and this president.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Would you please respond to this so that this man has a response ready the next time a man tries to manxplain(ph) why a man would make a better nominee.

(LAUGHTER)

LAH (voice-over): Senator Kamala Harris in her first town hall in Iowa explained how she, a biracial woman is electable as president.

SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D), CALIFORNIA: My entire career, I've heard people say it's not your time, nobody like you has done that before. I haven't listened, and I would suggest that nobody should listen to that kind of conversation.

(APPLAUSE)

LAH: What Democratic voters in Iowa should listen to, Harris stressed, is her vision for a presidency.

[09:20:00] UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How do you stay on your message and not get caught up in his crazy?

HARRIS: That's good, Deb, that's really good. Well, first, it's very important that anyone who presents themselves as a leader and wants to be a leader will speak like a leader. And that means speaking with integrity. It means speaking truth.

LAH: Her populist agenda, Harris told the town hall includes a middle class tax cut which she pledges would be her first act in office, supporting a framework for a green new deal, to fight climate change, paid parental leave and widening access to education from pre-school to college, what she called reasonable gun control and Medicare for all.

JAKE TAPPER, HOST, THE LEAD: So for people out there who like their insurance, they don't get to keep it?

HARRIS: Well, listen, the idea is that everyone gets access to medical care. And you don't have to go through the process of going through an insurance company, having them give you approval, going through the paperwork. Let's eliminate all of that. Let's move on.

LAH: Harris again pledged to not vote for a southern wall with Mexico and passionately spoke to a DACA recipient about the fear and uncertainly nearly 800,000 young people live with, in the Trump era.

HARRIS: We should not be trading on your life for the sake of the political gains that this president is playing, in trying to vilify young people like you who are doing nothing except being productive and believing in and living the American dream.

LAH: On the persistent criticism on her past as a prosecutor, Harris defended her record, saying she worked to reform the system, but she did not back down from her past.

HARRIS: There are some people who just believe that prosecutors shouldn't exist, and I don't think I'm ever going to satisfy them. But I will also say that there is so much more work to do, and do I wish I could have done more? Absolutely. (END VIDEOTAPE)

LAH: Now, this morning we are hearing from Howard Schultz as well as the RNC both on the attack, criticizing what Harris said there to our Jake Tapper, Jim and Poppy, about private insurance when it comes to Medicare for all and getting rid of that paperwork. It's in the specifics that we're going to --

HARLOW: Yes --

LAH: Have to hear from her. Jim, Poppy?

HARLOW: Yes, I mean, Kyung, great piece, by the way. Howard Schultz this morning said that's un-American. It's not American to get rid of private insurance companies, so we'll sit down with him a little later and ask him about that and a lot more. Thank you very much.

Let's talk about all of this. White House correspondent for "The Atlantic" Elaina Plott is with us, and White House correspondent for "The Washington Post" Toluse Olorunnipa joins us now. So we'll get to some of that in a moment, but this overarching number that's getting so much attention this morning, Toluse, is that in this new "Abc"- "Washington Post" poll, 56 percent of voters total say they would definitely not vote for the president.

This isn't like I'm not so excited. This is at this point --

SCIUTTO: Yes --

HARLOW: I would definitely not vote for the president. How significant is that since we're really far out?

TOLUSE OLORUNNIPA, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, WASHINGTON POST: Yes, I mean, we'd still have two years before the next presidential election. But this is a warning, a red flashing light for this president that he is seen as toxic for so many Americans if you dig deeper into those numbers.

The numbers are even worse when you look at the president's approval among women, you have about 64 percent of women who say that they would definitely not vote for him in 2020, independents, people in suburbia are saying that they would not vote against -- not vote for this president again in very high numbers.

And the president needs that coalition. He has his base, but in order to win in 2016, and if he was to repeat that feet in 2020, he'd have to also pull some of the Republicans and moderates who sort of held their nose and decided to vote for the president because maybe they liked what he said about taxes or they liked what he was going to do on judges.

Right now, a lot of those voters are saying, even with the tax cuts and even with the judicial appointments, they don't see themselves voting again for this president because there has been so much chaos in the White House, there's been so much division, but the government was just shut down for 35 days. And they're just turning their nose, and that's what we saw in 2018

with suburban America fleeing from the Republican Party and voting for Democrats. And right now, this is a warning sign for the president that if he doesn't change course, that he is likely to see that similar result in 2020 because a majority of Americans say that they will not vote for him again in 2020.

SCIUTTO: Might be wise cheering Howard Schultz as he enters the race, you might see an independent as his only path to victory. Elaina, the other number here was Republicans' openness to a challenger --

HARLOW: Yes --

SCIUTTO: To Trump in the primaries. If you look at these figures here, still 65 percent support him, 32 percent someone else. That's unusually high for the party's nominee. Keep in mind, this is among Republican voters, and the president remains very popular among Republican voters.

Tell us about the significance of that, and does that presage the possibility of a primary challenge for this president?

[09:25:00] ELAINA PLOTT, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE ATLANTIC: Jim, that number is significant enough that the Republican National Committee in their Winter meeting in Albuquerque over the last few days made a point to vote that the committee would, in fact, unanimously support Donald Trump.

They didn't go so far as to say for re-election. But it was in many ways a way for Chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel to kind of look each member in the eye and say, are you at this moment still committed to this president? Every member said yes.

But again, they did not leave that meeting with any sort of resolution to back Donald Trump for the 2020 election. They cited legal issues as the reason they didn't go forward with that. But when I talked to committee members privately and other donors throughout the Republican Party, they are in many ways waiting with baited breath to see if somebody emerges that could actually credibly challenge Donald Trump.

Right now, you have figures such as John Kasich and Larry Hogan who I'm not sure that the RNC or the White House see at all as credible challengers to Trump in a primary, but you know, this is still two years away, a lot can happen.

But again, you know, polling fluctuates, but the fact that, that sentiment is there such that the RNC was thinking about it, and one of their most critical meetings, last week, should give this president pause when wondering whether the party will rally behind him in 2020.

HARLOW: Toluse, we found it striking that given how high Kamala Harris is ranking so far in this "Washington Post"-"Abc" poll, she's right up there with Biden at 8 percent. Biden tops this poll with 9 percent, I should not other is the most, 12 percent. People may be looking for something else. The president has never once attacked her. He attacked Elizabeth Warren, Joe Biden, you name it. Why not Kamala Harris?

OLORUNNIPA: Yes, I think she is now getting on the president's radar. You saw the big crowd that she was able to draw over the weekend. And the president is obviously, he's looked at so many different candidates and so many different potential candidates on the Democratic side that he hasn't gotten around to everybody yet.

But I think now that Senator Harris is starting to get a lot of buzz, that you can expect the president to train his sights on her pretty soon. She has been willing to take on the president directly, she has been voting against his priorities, voting against his nominees, voting against even any money for the wall even when some Democratic senators voted for a packaged deal that would include money for the wall.

So she has been very much antagonistic to the president's agenda. And I think that now that her stock is rising in some of these polls, and she's able to draw such large crowds and create some buzz on the Democratic side, I think the president is going to be focusing on her very soon, and looking for weaknesses that he can point out and maybe even a nickname that he can give her, and it will be off to the races very soon when it comes to looking at the 2020 race.

SCIUTTO: He loves nicknames. We've seen that before, but sometimes some of the targets can turn those around on him.

HARLOW: Yes, that's true.

SCIUTTO: We've seen that. Listen, thanks to both of you --

HARLOW: Thanks --

SCIUTTO: As always. Just moments from now, the nation's top intelligence chiefs face senators on Capitol Hill on the biggest threats to the United States today. Expect a lot of talk about Russia and China.

HARLOW: So we'll bring that to you in just a moment, let's take a quick look at Wall Street ahead of the opening bell. The Dow expected to potentially rise slightly, it's off 41 points for futures right now. Investors are really sitting back right now waiting for Apple's earning report.

That will come after the closing bell today. Of course, it can be warned about the trade war between the U.S. and China, and how much that is hurting their bottom line.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)