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Debating Israel Support in Congress; Federal Prosecutors Seek Interviews With Trump Business Executives. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired February 5, 2019 - 16:30   ET



SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: The Southern District of New York wants to speak to top executives of the Trump Organization.

And, at the same time, they are digging into the weeds of what exactly was going on with the Trump Inaugural Committee.


MURRAY (voice-over): Today, President Trump's allies are downplaying a wide-ranging subpoena aimed at Trump's inaugural committee.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: What I do know at this point is this has nothing to do with the White House. And for anything specific and further, I would refer you back to the Trump Inaugural Committee.

MURRAY: But the new demand from the Southern District of New York calls for documents related to virtually every donor, donation and even the possibility of donations made by foreign nationals.

It also calls for information about attendees at committee events and vendors the committee worked with. A spokeswoman for the committee said it would cooperate with the inquiry. The subpoena shows, prosecutors are investigating a laundry list of potential crimes, conspiracy against the U.S., false statements, mail fraud, wire fraud, money laundering, disclosure violations, contributions from foreign nations and contributions from straw donors.

The committee has already come under public scrutiny for how it raised and spent an eye-popping $100 million on Trump's inaugural festivities. And Mueller's team previously struck a plea deal with a Washington lobbyist who admitted to illegally procuring inauguration tickets for a Ukrainian oligarch.

The lobbyist, Samuel Patten, appears to still be cooperating. The subpoena from New York prosecutors targets only one person by name, Imaad Zuberi, and his investment firm Avenue Ventures LLC.

KELLYANNE CONWAY, TRUMP SENIOR ADVISER: I saw there was one individual named, a gentleman who apparently had been a fund-raiser for both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, President Obama and Secretary Clinton. And he was trying to -- according to the reports I read, trying to get inroads into the Trump inaugural.

MURRAY: After backing President Obama and Hillary Clinton, Zuberi's firm donated $900,000 to Trump's inaugural fund, according to federal election records.

But the subpoena doesn't reveal why prosecutors may be interested in his donation. A spokesman for Zuberi said he's unaware of this subpoena aside from news reports. "If in fact he is named in this subpoena, never mind somehow named alone, he is bewildered why," adding: "Imaad has always gave only his own money from his own resources."


MURRAY: Now, Trump's legal woes may end up lasting far beyond the Mueller probe. This kind of inquiry from the Southern District of New York could go on through the duration of his presidency, Jake.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: All right, Sara Murray, thanks so much.

Take a listen to former Governor Chris Christie, an ally of President Trump, comparing the two different investigations into Trump world.


GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: I don't think the Russian conspiracy angle is there. If it is, we're going to know pretty soon, I suspect.

But this is the one, the Southern District is the one that, if I were him, would be the one I would be staring at the ceiling at night.


TAPPER: Do you agree? I mean...


Listen, this is the United States government, unlimited resources, unlimited time, getting into a multinational organization and have a wide range to just poke around.

I mean, look, Microsoft found out you don't mess with the federal government, right? They ran out of money. Microsoft ran out of money in their antitrust suit and sued for peace. So the federal government here has unlimited time, unlimited resources. And they can poke around.

So anybody running a big company wouldn't welcome that in their organization.

TAPPER: And the subpoena is wide-ranging . The crimes prosecutors could be looking for range from conspiracy against the U.S. to money laundering.

The deputy chair of the Trump Inaugural Committee, of course, was Rick Gates, who is now fully cooperating with the feds. If I were Trump, I might be nervous. They can look into anything.

MIA LOVE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I would definitely be nervous.

Again, when you have got the taxpayer dollars, and you feel like you have got unlimited resources, you can investigate anything. And most of the time, what they're looking for, they find something else that's there. So this is one of the reasons why you have to be careful.

I don't just put my support or my love behind just anybody. I want to make sure that there are as many people out there as possible, because you never know what you're going to find. And I would be concerned. I would very concerned.

TAPPER: So, Sarah Sanders, the White House press secretary, was asked about this. You're a former spokesperson for the government, for the Obama White House.

I want to know your take on this. Take a listen.


HUCKABEE SANDERS: And I think the biggest focus and the thing that most Americans care about has nothing to do with the inaugural. And it has everything to do with what the path forward looks like.



I mean, that's what she wishes when she looks at the ceiling at night, I'm certain.

Look, I think she is getting very close to the brink here. I think she's clearly lied from the podium, which may not be illegal, multiple times. But that certainly is bad practice and hurts her own credibility and her own future.

So I certainly would not do that, no. But I think the challenge they have here is, of course, this is the Trump Organization. They're looking at things, as you outlined there, like pay to play, where people promise things for tickets. There's a lot more tail to this that could continue.


URBAN: It's not the inaugural.

There are two things being investigated, the inaugural and then the organization, right? So there are two lines of inquiry.


TAPPER: She's talking about pay to play for the inaugural, right?

PSAKI: That's right. I'm talking about pay to play for the inaugural. [16:35:01]

The Trump Organization obviously has to do with President Trump, and his family is closely associated with it. I think she has a very difficult job. But, at the same time, she's a free human being who goes there every day and speaks and often lies on behalf of the president. And that's her choice to make.

URBAN: So you heard the inaugural.

The line of inquiry at the inaugural deals with one individual who was a Democratic donor who was trying to curry favor with a Republican administration. And that's the only thing we know so far. So I would be -- just as I said with Senator Menendez, you and I had a discussion about Senator Menendez. Be careful.


URBAN: The organization I think...


TAPPER: Trump used to be a Democratic donor.

URBAN: But the organization one is -- I think goes back to Michael Cohen, right, and there's a lot of spider web.


PSAKI: David, I didn't contradict you. I think you're right. There's a lot we don't know and I'm sure we will learn.

But obviously this has to do with Trump and his family, because it's their organization.


SYMONE SANDERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: If we're keeping score, Trump's inaugural, his foundation, his organization.


LOVE: Someone is innocent until actually proven guilty.

TAPPER: Innocent until proven guilty.

But let's take a look at all the different investigations going on in the Trump-related world.

SANDERS: Oh, look.

TAPPER: Trump campaign's finances, the Trump Organization's finances, the inaugural funding, from super PAC funding Trump Organization's taxes, the Trump Foundation.

That's not even including the Russia probe. But, again, an investigation is not a conviction. I mean, they are looking.

URBAN: It's not even an indictment.

TAPPER: Right. It's not even an indictment.

It's just they're looking into things.

SANDERS: Looks fishy, Jake.


LOVE: When you have got unlimited resources, you can look into anything.

SANDERS: All I'm saying, you know what? If this were President Obama and he was under more than one investigation, I do believe, if my imagination, if my memory serves me correctly, that the Republicans in the United States Congress would be up in arms.


LOVE: Well, wait a minute.

Some people would actually say that the list, so many -- that there is a witch-hunt. I think that that's what conservatives are saying and saying now I'm skeptical because they're looking at everything.


SANDERS: I just want to say something to that point.

I think it's very dangerous for folks to parrot the president's talking points about a witch-hunt, anybody, because the fact of the matter is, I'm not saying that she -- I'm not saying that she -- I'm not talking about the congresswoman.

I'm talking about folks out there, because lots of conservatives, other conservatives, are in fact saying that. But there are facts to support why these investigations have in fact been opened.

This is not coming out of thin air. And I just implore people to believe what you're seeing and hearing -- seeing with your own eyes and hearing with your own ears, and not what the president is telling you.


LOVE: Yes.

In this country, we still have to be very careful about making sure that we are -- we let the investigation -- and if something is found -- obviously, look, I'm not a person that's been 100 percent behind the president. I call him out when he is wrong.

I just want to make sure that I want to do unto people what they...


TAPPER: Presumption of innocence.


PSAKI: What makes people skeptical, many Americans who aren't just Democrats, is that many people, multiple people have gone to jail, have been indicted who are surrounding President Trump.

So there's a history here. This isn't something without background and without conviction. And so we look at all of these with open eyes.


URBAN: Run through the convictions or the guilty pleas. Right?

Other than Paul Manafort did things prior to the campaign. Let's acknowledge it. Did things prior to the campaign. The other folks who have pled or received convictions have done so as a result of the investigation.

TAPPER: Lying.

URBAN: But as a result of the investigation, not that there was some underlying crime, but their 302s didn't match up, right?

So it's something very different than Mueller found something to prosecute.


PSAKI: As we all can acknowledge, he has not concluded his report yet.

And so obviously no one, including anyone who's saying there is nothing in there, can conclude.


URBAN: We have had this before, presumption of innocence, Democrat or Republican, I'm always willing to give it.

TAPPER: It is true that you were that way on Menendez and others.

URBAN: And others.


TAPPER: Stick around.

The issue House Speaker Nancy Pelosi may have to confront that is dividing some in the Democratic Party. That's next.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: Some breaking news in our world lead.

Just moments ago, the Senate passed a bill rebuking President Trump for planning to pull U.S. service members from Syria and Afghanistan. And while that bipartisan bill passed the Senate with 77 votes, several Democrats voted against the legislation because of a provision opposing those who seek to boycott, divest and/or sanction Israel, also known as the BDS movement.

Those Democrats saying they oppose BDS. They oppose boycotting Israel. But they believe Americans should have the right to do so if they want.

Now that bill goes to the House of Representatives, where as CNN's Manu Raju reports, Speaker Pelosi may be forced to confront support for the actual BDS movement in her caucus, support for boycotting Israel, and fissures in what has historically been the Democratic Party's unequivocal support for the Jewish state.


MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In just one month in office, the first Muslim women to ever serve in the House, Congresswomen Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar, have become lightning rods over Israel.

Their statements criticizing the Jewish state not only exposing them to charges of anti-Semitism, but also revealing new internal divides in the Democratic Party, ones Republicans are eager to exploit.

REP. LEE ZELDIN (R), NEW YORK: We're seeing anti-Israel, anti-Semitic hate infiltrating American politics. It's infiltrating college campuses and the halls of Congress.

RAJU: Tlaib supports cutting aid to Israel and said those in Congress supporting legislation to protect Israel forgot what country they represent, a comment critics said reveal the age-old anti-Semitic attack on Jews as having dual loyalty, forcing Tlaib to clarify her remarks.

Omar's compared Israel to Iraq and in 2012 tweeted about the evil- doings of Israel, saying it has hypnotized the world, comments she recently disavowed. Both are among the only lawmakers to bet the Palestinian-led boycott, divest and sanction movement, or BDS, which seeks to impose economic pressure on Israel.

But a 2018 survey suggested, as a policy matter, a growing number of Democrats may share the views of Omar and Tlaib, diverging widely from GOP support of Israel.

Speaking today at the liberal Center for American Progress Omar, a Somali immigrant who came to the U.S. as a refugee 23 years ago said all faiths should be respected.

REP. ILHAN OMAR (D), MINNESOTA: I know how it feels to be hated because of my religious beliefs. I am proof that as Americans we can embrace our differences.

RAJU: CNN caught up with Omar afterwards even though her office tried to deny an interview.

OMAR: This is really important for us to get a different lens about what peace in that region could look like and the kind of difficult conversations we need to have about allies.

RAJU: Do you think that Israel is an ally or do you think it's an adversary.

OMAR: Israel is an ally of the United States and I think you know as much as you would look to your -- to your neighbor, to your friends, to live out the same values as you are, we want to make sure that our allies are living out the same values that we push for.

RAJU: Why do you support BDS? Why do you support BDS?

Senate Democrats insist they are completely united against the boycott Israel movement.

SEN. CHRIS MURPHY (D), CONNECTICUT: Every single Democrat in the Senate opposes the effort to boycott Israel.

SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D), CONNECTICUT: It is one of the world's great democracies.

RAJU: But today, the Senate GOP pushed through legislation empowering states and localities to curb the BDS movement. Some Democrats say it would stifle free speech and accuse the GOP of trying to tie their party for the more strident views of Omar and Tlaib.

MURPHY: Republicans who don't really care about the policy in my view but care deeply about trying to use Israel and bills about Israel as it means to divide Republicans from Democrats.


RAJU: And, Jake, the bill just passed the Senate by 77 to 23 vote. 22 Democrats voting to pass this bill out of the chamber including a number of Democratic presidential candidates like Elizabeth Warren who told me she does not support BDS but she also believes efforts to curb for your speech have gone too far.

And, Jake, for this piece, we try to talk to Rashida Tlaib as well. She's not in her office. She did not respond to multiple requests for comment. Jake?

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: All right, Manu Raju, thank you so much. So Symone Sanders, among those challenging the Democratic Party's traditional views on Israel supporting Israel wholeheartedly our Congresswoman Tlaib, Congresswoman Omar, Alexandria Ocacio-Cortez, is this a generational thing? What do you think's going on here?

SYMONE SANDERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I do think it's a generational thing. And I think in general there has been a lack of nuance in the conversation when you talk about Israel and Palestine to the point where you cannot be critical of the government of Israel -- of Israel's actions without some calling you anti-Semitic which some would argue is crazy because we can be critical of United States of America and understand we're criticizing United States f America not the people.

And so I think that this -- there's this general -- there's a generation of young people who believe that we should be able to have a nuanced conversation about this. Now I think that this generation of young people has now infiltrated the United States Congress and their understanding that it might be a little bit more complicated than it seems on its face. And I think that's a conversation --

DAVID URBAN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: So I just think -- I think it's hard to have a nuanced conversation about a government that calls the eradication of the Israeli government.

TAPPER: We're talking about the Hamas government.

URBAN: Yes, right. So that's what I mean? Like -- so how can you have a nuanced -- that's their position. They're not like let's get along.

SANDERS: Well, I'm saying --

URBAN: Hold on, Symone. Hold on. They want to end --

SANDERS: No, I just want to be clear. You're jumping --

URBAN: I'm not. I'm not jumping.

SANDERS: And this is what I'm talking about. I am saying -- I am saying, there are people that are advocating for the rights of the Palestinian people. No, I'm not talking about Hamas.

URBAN: So Hamas?

SANDERS: The rights of the Palestinian people. Every Palestinian is not a Hamas. And so because --

TAPPER: Let her finish and then you're up.

SANDERS: -- there's a lack of nuance in the conversation because anytime I introduce anything that says we should look at these folks as people, you automatically jump to --

URBAN: I'm not saying -- Symone, I'm not saying you should look out for these people.


URBAN: You denounce terrorism like that? You denounce Hamas? SANDERS: I'm not going to engage with this --

URBAN: I'm asking you. Symone I'm asking -- it's a simple question.

TAPPER: Of course, Symone --

SANDERS: That's a question that should not be asked --

URBAN: So then -- but Symone -- but Symone, stop, stop --

SANDERS: No, you stop. Because you're suggesting -- do you denounce terrorism, do you denounce hate, then you should support Donald Trump.

URBAN: Symone --

SANDERS: The audacity. This is what I'm talking about.

TAPPER: Well --



LOVE: Before -- look, this is an issue --

TAPPER: This is by the way, this is why it's tough to talk about this issue.

LOVE: This is an issue that Republicans and Democrats used to be very strong on this issue --

TAPPER: And united.

LOVE: And their support -- and united in their support for Israel. If we go back and look at some of the things that are going on and the fact that Israel is on the front lines when it comes to the fight on terrorism. They're the ones that are dealing with it on all ends. We could so much -- she's doing more than just asking question. Just sitting there saying we should defund Israel. We get so much of out of that --

[16:50:07] TAPPER: You're talking about Congresswoman Tlaib?

LOVE: Yes.


LOVE: She's saying that you know, we should remove our funding. Wait a minute. You have to understand what we get out of that. We actually get quite a bit out of that.

URBAN: And the Palestinians don't simply want to get along.

LOVE: In terms of medical technology, in terms of medical technology, they are our allies. They've been our allies out in the Middle East. They're for democracy and freedom out there. And so I think that that's something that we should look at the bigger picture and say --

URBAN: And again, one of the main cause of destruction at the --

JEN PSAKI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think this is -- this is clearly representative of the passions on this issue. I will say I've spent a lot of time in the region --

URBAN: So am I, Jen.

PSAKI: And I know you have and I've spent a lot of time on Democratic platforms. This is not new. This has been evolving over the course of time. And it represents the fact --

TAPPER: The fissures you're talking about. The divisions in the Democratic Party.

PSAKI: Divisions but also the desire to have a more nuanced conversation. Nobody is defending Hamas, nobody's defending terrorism, the question is can you be sympathetic to the Palestinian people while also being defenders of Israel and funding Israel. The positions of Rashida Tlaib, they're not representative of all the Democrats who have want to have that conversation. They certainly are not, but there is an evolving view and a view that --

URBAN: And they get to vote on it tomorrow. It's pretty soon.

PSAKI: And a view that this needs to be a broader conversation that isn't just always defending Israel at all costs, and that's what you're seeing I think play out here.

TAPPER: David, why would you ask Simone if she supports terrorism?

URBAN: Look, I'm -- so I didn't mean it. So because you're not -- if you can't simply denounce the Hamas position and say listen, a government that calls for the destruction of another government, isn't one you have to sit down --


SANDERS: Can you answer why you ask -- why would you ask me do I support terrorism?

URBAN: Because you're -- because you're saying -- I'm not saying it. I'm saying --

SANDERS: Did you ask me why do I support terrorism?

URBAN: Symone --

SANDERS: Why would you ask that?

URBAN: Because you're -- you were defending --

SANDERS: What was I defending? I didn't say that. I didn't defend anyone. URBAN: Symone, you're defending -- you're saying there's a nuance position. It's hard to have a nuance position. If you're Hamas, you say we call for the elimination of the state.

SANDERS: I'm still talking about --

URBAN: You're saying -- no, you were saying --


TAPPER: I think -- I think she was saying the nuance position is like what Jen Psaki said.

SANDERS: I have been to Israel with this Israeli Israel Friendship League. I know Ambassador Name personally. I've been on the ground. I've been to Jerusalem.

URBAN: So am I.

SANDERS: And so for you to say -- I just want to be clear though.

URBAN: I've been to Gaza.

SANDERS: For you to suggest here --

URBAN: I've been to Gaza.

SANDERS: For you suggest in the conversation --


LOVE: Where we get to where we cross the line when it comes to anti- Semitism, where are we crossing the line where we're actually all out just thinking that the support of Israel removing that, what does that -- what does that cost us? What is that going to do to the United States? I think those are questions that have to be asked too. Congressman Lee Zeldin who is Jewish, Jewish Republican actually has it right.

I mean, when you're looking at what's happening with BDS, we have to be careful that we're not crossing a line saying, hey, free speech, this form of free speech is OK.

PSAKI: But I think most Democrats --

URBAN: So Symone -- if I insinuated you support Hamas and some reason --

SANDERS: Thank you.

URBAN: That is not --

SANDERS: Thank you.

TAPPER: OK, good. We're back to being friends here. But again, an illustration of the heated passions and the difficulty of having to nuance conversations about this very sensitive topic. The key step, a top U.S. general says President Trump skipped before announcing he was pulling U.S. troops from Syria. That's next.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The answer -- the answer to the question is that we do have --



[16:50:00] TAPPER: The "WORLD LEAD." Today, a top U.S. general who oversees operations in the Middle East is exposing how much the President's announcement to pull troops out of Syria came as a surprise. General Joseph Votel, Commander of U.S. Central Command since 2016 this morning told the Senate Armed Services Committee not only did he not know the announcement was coming, he was not consulted. Take a listen.


GEN. JOSEPH VOTEL, COMMANDER, UNITED STATES CENTRAL COMMAND: I was not aware of the -- of the specific announcement. Certainly, we are aware that he has expressed a desire in the past to depart Iraq.

SEN. ANGUS KING (I), MAINE: So you weren't -- you weren't consulted before that decision was announced?

VOTEL: I was not consulted.


TAPPER: I want to bring in CNN's Barbara Starr at the Pentagon. Barbara, less than two months ago, December 19th, the President tweeted "we have defeated ISIS in Syria. My only reason for being there during the Trump presidency." Barbara, General Votel did not back that up today.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, not consulted, not consulted by who? This is pretty serious stuff. Even if the president didn't see a need to consult the frontline general, General Votel, remember Mattis, Secretary Mattis resigned over this very issue because he had to his advice had not been consulted on the quick withdrawal of troops from Syria. So where are we right now?

Expect to see the President continue to talk about the caliphate being gone. General Votel today saying, sure, they're down to about 20 square miles a territory in Syria but that is so far from the whole story about what is going on with ISIS and Syria. Listen to what General Votel had to say.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have also heard estimates of about 20,000 to 30,000 Islamic state fighters remain. Do they remain in that one percent of territory or is that only a fraction of it?

VOTEL: Those fighters are geographically disbursed across Syria, across the open areas.


STARR: So geographically disbursed. Listen to those words, Jake. What General Votel is telling us is ISIS regardless of the amount of square land, they think they control has gone underground, has gone clandestine, has become a guerrilla movement capable of staging suicide attacks perhaps more dangerous than ever before. Jake?

TAPPER: And not defeated despite what President Trump said. Barbara Starr at the Pentagon, thanks so much. Be sure to tune in to CNN tonight for the President's State of the Union Address. Our special coverage begins at 8:00 p.m. Eastern. You can follow me on Facebook and Twitter @JAKETAPPER or you can tweet the show @THELEADCNN. Our coverage on CNN continues right now. Thanks for watching.