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First Address Before Democratic-controlled House; Abrams to Deliver Rebuttal; General Not Consulted on Withdrawal; Prosecutors Subpoena Trump Inaugural Committee. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired February 5, 2019 - 13:00   ET


[13:00:22] BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Brianna Keilar, live from CNN's Washington headquarters.

Underway right now, the State of the Union is divided. President Trump goes before Congress tonight, his first address before a Democratically controlled House.

Plus, she's been chosen to deliver the Democratic response to the State of the Union, but likely 2020 contender Bernie Sanders has another plan.

It wasn't the biggest crowd ever, but the president's inauguration did raise more cash than any other in history and now prosecutors want to know how.

And call it the new no labels group. What Howard Schultz wants you to call him and other rich people instead of billionaires.

We start with President Trump getting ready to address the nation. The delayed State of the Union speech putting the president center stage nearly two weeks after the end of the historic government shutdown. This morning, the White House put out the message that the president will be reaching across the aisle calling for bipartisanship and unity. But as we know with President Trump, that could all change without warning.

We also have to remember that he's in Nancy Pelosi's house now. His chief antagonist here. And she'll be perched right over his shoulder for the entire address.

With me now we have CNN's senior White House correspondent Pamela Brown, CNN White House correspondent Abby Phillip, and our chief political correspondent Dana Bash.

So it's noteworthy, Pamela, that even as we hear the White House saying this is about bipartisanship, the president has been going after Chuck Schumer today. So what's the real expectation?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Right. I mean, yes, you're right, he went after Chuck Schumer saying -- knocking him for not winning the Senate. He says that Chuck Schumer was criticizing his State of the Union speech. Remember, last year it was all about unity, too. I mean that was the

theme of his speech and then in the day or two after his State of the Union speech he was going after Democrats on Twitter. And so this is what you see from this president in highly scripted events like this, where he's going to be reading from a teleprompter, where all the themes are laid out with his aides and he's very prepared beforehand, he doesn't necessarily walk the talk before and after. And I think you're seeing that play out right now.

Now, in terms of what we can expect, we can expect some of these bipartisanship ideas on how Democrats and Republicans work together -- can work together on infrastructure, on combating opioid addiction.

What I don't think you're going to hear in the president's speech today is a lot of news, a lot of new headlines on issues like, you know, the North Korea summit, where it's going to be. The president told me in the Oval Office last week he would have more details in the speech, but now we're hearing that that's likely not going to happen.

Also we're hearing, at this stage in the draft, again, it could change up to the very last minute so we have to be careful, at this stage there is not a plans for him to announce a national emergency on the border wall.

KEILAR: It's so interesting when you watch this -- the State of the Union Address because so much of it is about the body language of the opposition party. Do they stand? Do they applaud?

And in the case of the Democratic caucus, we understand that the women, and this is a historically large contingent of women in the caucus, they're going to all be wearing white to send a message to President Trump. I mean that's really going to stand out in the House chamber.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. And this will also be the first time Trump is in this chamber where a majority of the people in the audience are going to be Democrats. The House is controlled by Democrats right now by a wide margin. And the Democratic women have been eager to send a message to President Trump on a number of different fronts, but certainly because of what happened in the campaign, the "Access Hollywood" tape, the accusations of sexual harassment against him, but also just to demonstrate that they're there. That this is a historically diverse caucus. For Democrats, it's a historically diverse House chamber. And it compares -- it is in stark contrast to the Republican side, which is not historically diverse. Where they're still struggling to show more diversity that is closer to where the country is.

And I think it will be interesting for President Trump, who often kind of needs adulation from his audience, he's used to these rallies, he's used to these spaces being people who support him and who are cheering him on to be around so many people who are going to be doing the very opposite of that, having Nancy Pelosi sitting behind him and not doing what Paul Ryan did for the last two years, it will be a very different experience for a president who typically doesn't like these kinds of stoic moments and would prefer a more, you know, raucous campaign rally to a State of the Union speech.

KEILAR: It's going to be very different, Dana.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Oh, very different. I mean, first of all, you mentioned the body language and the obvious difference between having the Democrats not just in the -- in the chairs, in the chamber, Democrats, you know, with the majority in the House, and just the diversity -- historic diversity, not just female but ethnic diversity as well.

[13:05:09] But I'm going to be watching for how Nancy Pelosi plays it sitting behind him. I mean that is just going to be must-see TV to -- because she has played -- played is probably maybe a pejorative word that I don't intend to use -- her strategy so far has been so incredibly attuned to who he is and who her caucus is. And she's -- there's a reason why she has the highest approval ratings at age 78 than she's ever had. I mean it took her a long time to get the kind of kudos that she's getting now and I think she needed the kind of political opponent that she has in Donald Trump in order to get that. So just to watch her, you know, I'm assuming she'll be stoic because it is a -- to be respectful, but there are going to be times where she's probably going to be signaling either silently or not so silently to her caucus, you know, let's try to either be respectful or let's show we don't agree with this.

KEILAR: Let's talk about who's giving the Democratic rebuttal because it's Stacey Abrams. She ran for -- on the -- as a Democrat for governor in Georgia, was unsuccessful. Usually it's someone who is serving in an office. But she has been chosen as the messenger. Why?

BASH: You know, first of all, just to state the obvious, she's not in Washington. And the -- even though the scene in Washington is so unique and is so historic, it's still Washington. And the Democrats want to show that they are more than of Washington. And even though Stacey Abrams didn't win, she did pretty well in the state of Georgia. And she had a message that the Democrats think really resonates. And so, why not?


BROWN: And I think, you know, the challenge for her will be just to make sure she doesn't say anything or do anything that will create a meme or something embarrassing. I mean we have seen this in the past with others who have done the speech following the president. You remember Marco Rubio with the famous drinking the water when he had cottonmouth. I mean -- and so I think that that is one of the things that, you know, you always look for is just to make sure that she doesn't do anything that's (INAUDIBLE).

KEILAR: Let's switch gears because I want to get your opinion on Syria.

Listen to what the commander of the U.S. Central Commander said during a hearing held by the Senate Armed Services Committee.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. ANGUS KING (D), MAINE: General, were you aware of the president's intention to order the withdrawal of our troops from Syria before that was publicly announced?

ARMY GENERAL JOSEPH VOTEL, COMMANDER, U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND: I was not aware of the -- of the specific announcement. Certainly we are aware that he has expressed a desire and intent in the past to depart -- depart Iraq -- or depart Syria.

KING: So you weren't -- you weren't consulted before that decision was announced?

VOTEL: We were not -- I was not consulted.


KEILAR: I mean, wow, Abby.

BASH: Wow.


KEILAR: This matters.

PHILLIP: Yes, it's incredible. And it's coming off of a -- this is the second week of people testifying on Capitol Hill and saying things that really put the president on the spot, either contradicting him or showing his public statements to be not squared up with what really happened.

The White House has been trying to claim for many weeks that there has been no break with the military on Syria, that they've been perfectly clear on the strategy there. We know that that is not true because he caught a lot of these very same individuals off guard. This is a president who campaigned on being smarter than the generals, but now it's clear he didn't consult them on a really major decision that has put him now at odds with even Republicans on Capitol Hill who are trying to tell him, you need to slow down this process of withdrawing troops because you could be putting the troops that are still there in harm's way.

The president lost a defense secretary over this, which in any other administration would be maybe the defining moment of his presidency. And now it is just one more thing, but that testimony really just demonstrates everything the White House has been trying to claim about clarity on this, about consultations with his advisers. Not exactly true. That's not the way it happened. The president made this decision in spite of disagreement from within the ranks of the military.

KEILAR: And it's one thing to disagree with your generals, it's another thing to not even have them in the loop.


KEILAR: Ladies, thank you so much, Abby, Pamela, and Dana. I really appreciate it. BASH: Thanks, Bri.

KEILAR: Bernie Sanders is giving his own response after the president's speech despite Stacey Abrams representing the Democrats. I'm going to ask Speaker Pelosi's guest, DNC Chair Tom Perez, about this next.

Plus, the president's inaugural committee slapped with a subpoena as new questions surface about who donated money to it.

[13:09:46] And CNN's exclusive reporting is getting big reaction on Capitol Hill today after it's discovered the Saudi-led coalition is transferring American made weapons into the hands of terrorists.


KEILAR: Federal prosecutors in New York are escalating their investigation into President Trump's inaugural committee. They've subpoenaed the committee for documents related to virtually every donor or donation, including any benefits that were offered to donors. They're working to determine if there were any financial abuses related to the record $107 million in donations that were raised for the event. And this is just one of several major investigations that is involving Trump entities.

Renato Mariotti is with me now.

So, Renato, you were a federal prosecutor. If there are donations from federal entities, is it only a crime if the committee was aware?

RENATO MARIOTTI, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Yes, that's true, they not only needed to be aware that they were receiving foreign contributions, but they needed to be aware that receiving foreign contributions was illegal. Although I would note that the inaugural committee had very good attorneys and compliance staff. So there are some people there that were aware of it. The question is, were the same people who knew that the foreign money was coming in, people who knew that that was illegal?

[13:15:22] KEILAR: OK, so right now I want to ask you about the president and sort of the legal fronts that he's concerned about because he seems really concerned about this special counsel's Russia election interference probe, but that's going to wind down, we expect. Could the federal prosecutors who are in New York, the Southern District of New York, actually pose more of a threat to the president?

MARIOTTI: I've believed that for a long time, ever since federal prosecutors in New York implicated the president in a campaign contribution crime. They are far down the road there. They are looking at people in the Trump Organization, half cooperators. To me, as a lawyer, that is a much bigger concern than the Mueller investigation, but, obviously, you know, that is more politically explosive.

KEILAR: All right, Renato, thank you so much. Renato Mariotti.

And former Starbuck's CEO Howard Schultz says that he prefers people called billionaires like him by another name. We're going to tell you what he wants to be called, next.


[13:21:04] KEILAR: President Trump is taking his case to the American people tonight in the State of the Union Address. And, remember, the president was supposed to give this speech a couple of weeks ago, but that plan was derailed by the historic government shutdown and by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi disinviting him during it.

Tom Perez is the chairman of the Democratic National Committee.

We've just learned, sir, that you're going to be one of the speaker's guests tonight, so you'll have a front row seat really there. A high perch.

TOM PEREZ, DNC CHAIRMAN: I am so honored to be there.


PEREZ: And, frankly, I'm really honored to see her in the speaker's chair.

KEILAR: Well -- and that's what so many observers, I think, are going to be watching for. So do you think there will be any opportunities for applause from both sides of the aisle? Are we going to see any sort of unanimous standing ovation at all, do you think?

PEREZ: Well, that's up to the president. If we want to unite -- and I had the privilege of serving as labor secretary under President Obama and there were plenty of moments where President Obama stated values that were -- universal values that brought together Republicans, Democrats, independents and the like.

Unfortunately, unity hasn't really been in his DNA. Just look at what he's doing on Twitter this morning, going after Leader Schumer. That's not the tone to set on the day of the State of the Union. But we're going to be fighting hard for the things that people care about. That's our singular focus as Democrats.

KEILAR: There's an expectation, of course, that he's going to make his case again for the border wall. Speaker Pelosi has said absolutely no money for the border wall. But in our reporting here at CNN, we've been hearing from some rank and file Democrats who say they're worried about the president's messaging as he says the Democrats are not serious about border security, they're worried that that's taking hold. How do you combat that?

PEREZ: With facts. And we have been communicating the facts. And the fact of the matter is that we have invested in border security for years, dating back to the Obama administration and before that. And we believe that if you want to really secure the borders, what you need to do is make sure we're investing in technology, make sure we're investing in judges to adjudicate cases. Make sure we're investing in airports, because almost two-thirds of the people who are undocumented in the United States didn't come in along the border, they came in through the airports. And so when we do things like that, we want to be smart on security. And that's the smart way to do it.

KEILAR: Can barriers be a part of that?

PEREZ: Well, again, the challenge with this president is he's -- he - he wanted a trophy, you know. If this were something that would make America safer, then it would be one thing, but this was a trophy during a political campaign. He --

KEILAR: But when you don't give incrementally on the idea of barriers, aren't you playing into his assertion that Democrats aren't serious about border security?

PEREZ: Absolutely not, because you look at the facts and what we've invested in, and we've invested in things that work. We're not -- we're not concerned about political trophies, we're concerned about safety. And what we're also concerned about -- and the whole conversation about border security is a colossal distraction. He doesn't want to talk about health care. He doesn't want to talk about making sure that we provide coverage for people with preexisting conditions. If you want to get bipartisan applause, talk about the fact that you're going to tell the Justice Department to withdraw from that lawsuit in Texas that's challenging coverage for people with pre- existing conditions.

KEILAR: So no need for barriers is part of it.

PEREZ: Well, again, the need for security. We need smart law enforcement along the border. And this is not smart law enforcement. All the Democrats who -- all the members of Congress, including a Republican who represent these border communities, are against this. It's -- I think the people who live near the border understand it the best.

KEILAR: I'm not talking about the wall as he sees it. I'm talking about a barrier incrementally. Doesn't -- not -- not a wall from sea to shining sea, just part of the piece -- just a piece of it.

[13:25:02] PEREZ: Well, again, the challenge for him is, he keeps moving his own goalposts, and he backed himself into a corner. This was a -- this was, again, manufacturing a crisis to create leverage, and that was his fault. He owned and is responsible for uprooting the lives of a million-plus people and their families in the shutdown. And shame on him.

KEILAR: Stacey Abrams is going to be delivering the Democratic rebuttal after the State of the Union. And she's an interesting pick because she came to national prominence but she ran for governor, obviously, as a Democrat in Georgia. She did not win that race. Normally the person -- almost always, in the history of this speech, the person who delivers that rebuttal is someone who is in office. She is not, so that is distinct. Why -- what do you want Americans to hear from her?

PEREZ: She's a historic pick and a wonderful pick. And what Americans are going to hear from her is a message of hope and opportunity, as opposed to fear and division. Stacey is going to talk about her own life and how she worked her way up. Comes from a family of faith leaders and understands that zip codes should never determine destiny. Understands that health care should be a right for all and not a privilege for a few. Understands that we should be making sure that our neighborhood schools provide real opportunity for kids and that we have shared prosperity for everyone, not just prosperity for a few.

I can think of no better person to articulate the values of inclusion and opportunity for everyone in every zip code than Stacey Abrams.

KEILAR: Bernie Sanders apparently can think of someone better, and that is Bernie Sanders, because he's going to be giving his own rebuttal. What do you make of that when he's sort of -- he's potentially stepping on Stacey Abrams? What do you make of that in terms of projecting a unified party, because that doesn't?

PEREZ: Well, Senator Sanders has done this in past States of the Union. So this isn't the first time he has done that. And he and others certainly have the right to do that. He moved the time so it didn't conflict with Stacey Abrams. And I respect that.

And, again, I'm very excited about it. I think people who haven't met Stacey Abrams tonight are going to understand why she is such a star. Because her smarts, her humility, her passion for justice for everyone, opportunity for everyone, is why we were so proud to invest in her campaign. And I think she has an exceedingly bright political future.

KEILAR: No pressure -- it is such a high pressure position to be in, so it's going to be very interesting to watch.

PEREZ: Amen.

KEILAR: Thank you so much, chairman. Thank you so much for coming in studio.

PEREZ: Always a pleasure to be with you.

KEILAR: We really appreciate it.

PEREZ: No, it's always a pleasure to be here.

KEILAR: Of course.

The stunning CNN exclusive that is getting major reaction on Capitol Hill and around the world today. U.S. weapons originally sold to Saudi Arabia and the UAE ending up in the hands of terrorists.