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Nigerian Elections; Trump Declares National Emergency; Special Counsel Says Manafort Deserves 20+ Years Prison; World Leaders in Germany to Discuss Global Threats; Rising Popularity of Backcountry Skiing. Aired 3-3:30a ET

Aired February 16, 2019 - 03:00   ET

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


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CYRIL VANIER, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Nigeria's presidential election delayed by a week. We'll have a report live from Abuja in a moment.

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DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I could do the wall over a longer period of time. I didn't need to do this but I'd rather do it much faster.

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VANIER (voice-over): No sooner did he declare a national emergency at the U.S.-Mexico border and then he pointed out he didn't have to do it.

We sent our favorite weather guy to a meteorologist conference and he came back with this: a reason to like snowstorms. We'll talk to Derek Van Dam later on in the show.

Live from the CNN Center in Atlanta, I'm Cyril Vanier and it's great to have you with us.

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VANIER: We begin in Nigeria where the top political parties are condemning the delay of presidential elections. Polls were supposed to open one hour ago but at the last minute, election officials decided to postpone voting until next week. CNN's David McKenzie has been coverage the race. He joins us now from Abuja.

David, you and both thought we would be talking about polls opening and that got canceled, what happened exactly?

DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Five hours before the vote was supposed to start, they pulled the plug, saying they had logistical problems todeal with. That's the independent electoral commission.

This massive country and this critical election has been put on hold. Looking behind me the road are practically empty. People were not supposed to be driving. The borders are closed and tens of thousands of people throughout the nation had to travel to their home states and their home cities to vote. They were left stranded.

Some people in the outskierts even of the capital arrived at the polling station only to find out it wasn't happening.

So this is -- this is going to ratchet up the tension again in this critical election. They didn't give many specifics when they said they delayed it in the very early hours of the morning. They did say it was logistical issues and they wanted to have the election to be free and fair and have everyone have their say.

But there will be people throughout the nation, scratching their heads and angry and bitter that -- that they've been disenfranchised at least for the moment -- Cyril.

VANIER: What are the early reactions that you've been hearing and does anybody think this could actually have an impact on the outcome?

MCKENZIE: it's too early to say. The opposition party, the candidate there, through a statement, saying they believe this will push down turnout and they're hinting this was a political move on the part of the ruling party of the government saying it's a way to dampen turnout and to affect the result.

They have also called for calm. There are areas of this country that have seen sporadic outbreaks of violence and tension in the lead-up to the election. For its part, the ruling party has said they're also disappointed in this maneuver by the electoral commission. They say it should have been done on time.

But they're calling for calm as well, hinting on their side that this is a maneuver by the opposition party. So this will ratchet up the tension, as I said, for a high stakes election in Africa's most populous nation. They will have to try and maintain some kind of credibility.

But it will be very difficult, given the fact that, if they had logistical issues, one would have thought they would announce it a little bit earlier than just the hours before the poll actually got going.

But there's reports of significant issues of getting voting materials to some key swing states in the country. Perhaps the electoral commission wanted to ensure credibility, have everything ready in place.

But the conspiracy theories and rumors will just increase now as this delay drags on.

VANIER: The improv there is bound to rattle nerves. David McKenzie, reporting live from Abuja, Nigeria, thank you.

It is official: U.S. President Donald Trump has declared a national emergency to fund a wall along the Mexican border. You will recall he repeatedly said he would make Mexico pay for it.

Mr. Trump's announcement came days after Congress refused his demand for wall funding. The president will now face a gantlet of legal challenges that could drag on for months or even longer. Even members of his own party advised him against it. We get more from CNN's Jim Acosta.

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JIM ACOSTA, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Trying to take a victory lap after a stinging --

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ACOSTA (voice-over): -- defeat in Congress, President Trump declared a national emergency at the border to start tapping into administration funds to build his wall.

But the president may have already undercut his case when he indicated his real motivation is to speed things along.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I could do the wall over a longer period of time. I didn't need to do this, but I would rather do it much faster. And I don't have to do it for the election. I have already done a lot of wall for the election, 2020.

ACOSTA: Adding in more than $1 billion authorized by Congress, the White House said it's secured a combine $8 billion for the wall. But the president was still selling the project, accusing critics of lying when it's pointed out that most illegal drugs coming into the U.S. go through legal ports of entry.

TRUMP: When you listen to politicians, in particular certain Democrats, they say it all comes through the port of entry. It's wrong. It's wrong. It's just a lie. It's all a lie.

ACOSTA: But the president was once again hyping the threat at the border, making all sorts of unproven claims of his own.

TRUMP: Women and girls, you can't take them through ports of entry. You can't have them tied up in the backseat of a car or a truck or a van. They open the door. They look. They can't see women with tape on their mouth or three women whose hands are tied.

ACOSTA: And the president lashed out when the facts were presented to him.

ACOSTA (on camera): There's a lot of Department of Homeland Security data out there that shows border crossings at a near record low --

TRUMP: That's because of us. But it's still -- excuse me --

ACOSTA: -- that shows undocumented immigrants committing crimes at lower levels --

TRUMP: You don't -- you don't really believe that stat, do you? Do you really believe that stat?

Take a look at our federal prisons.

ACOSTA: What do you -- well, let me ask you this. I believe -- I believe in facts and statistics.

ACOSTA (voice-over): The president sounded petulant, grumbling over the likelihood that Democrats will take him to court for circumventing Congress.

TRUMP: And we will then be sued and they will sue us in the 9th Circuit, even though it shouldn't be there and we will possibly get a bad ruling and then we'll get another bad ruling and then we'll end up in the Supreme Court and hopefully we'll get a fair shake and we'll win in the Supreme Court.

ACOSTA: Mr. Trump also appeared to mimic the president of China as he marveled over how the autocratic country punishes drug dealers.

TRUMP: I asked President Xi, I said, do you have a drug problem?

No, no, no.

I said you have 1.4 billion people.

What do you mean you have no drug problem?

No, we don't have a drug problem.

I said, why?

Death penalty. We give death penalty to people that sell drugs, end of problem.

ACOSTA: And the president bristled at the notion that conservative media stars are actually calling the shots when it comes to his policy.

TRUMP: Look, Sean Hannity has been a terrific, terrific supporter of what I do. Not of me. If I changed my views, he wouldn't be with me.

Rush Limbaugh, I think he's a great guy. Ann Coulter, I don't know her. I hardly know her.

ACOSTA: But there are cracks in his wall of conservative support.

ANN COULTER, CONSERVATIVE COMMENTATOR: The only national emergency is that our president is an idiot.

ACOSTA: The president all but stomped his feet when he was asked whether he was simply making up this national emergency. But the president has bigger things to worry about than which questions are asked at a news conference, such as the growing number of Republican senators who are raising concerns about the president's declaration, saying it may be unconstitutional -- Jim Acosta, CNN, the White House. (END VIDEOTAPE)

VANIER: You just heard President Trump seem to undermine the entire premise of a national emergency by saying that he didn't really need to do what he did. Earlier I spoke with U.S. constitutional attorney, Page Pate, and "Politico" White House erporter Gabby Orr.

I asked them how this one phrase may be used to block the president in court. Here's what they said.

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PAGE PATE, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I think the courts are going to determine if this is in fact a national emergency that justifies what the president is trying to do. And to make that determination, they're going to look at the facts on the ground.

Is there enough of a situation at the border that requires the president to take what is really an extraordinary step of taking money that Congress has appropriated for one use and turning it into this border wall?

They first have to determine, is there a national emergency?

I think second thing they have to determine is, if there's an national emergency, does it justify this broad use of executive power.

In other words, is this law itself constitutional?

Can Congress give the president the authority to decide what to do with money that Congress has already appropriated?

Tough questions because they really have not been addressed before.

VANIER: Bearing in mind for our international viewers that, in the U.S., Congress has what is known as the power of the purse. They decide how to spend the money. The president really can't normally under normal circumstances take that from them.

Gabby, on the political front, if you look at the facts coming to us, the stats from the southern border, I'm not a lawyer but they don't exactly scream national emergency. The legal border crossings are at a historically low level; the drugs that are caught, most are caught at --

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VANIER: -- legal points of entry, contrary to what the president said.

Do we know if the rest of the White House buys into this notion that this is an emergency?

GABBY ORR, "POLITICO": They don't. I spoke to a number of White House officials in recent weeks leading up to the declaration today that the president said that they weren't encouraging him to pursue this route, they thought it was probably the most risky in terms of being subject to legal challenge and they didn't think it was safe that the president would do this, that he would immediately face court challenges.

This is something that could seriously divide Republicans if they have to vote on an up-or-down joint resolution. Not only that, but the president himself today undermined the claim that there's a huge national security crisis and humanitarian issues at the border when he said this wasn't something he needed to do.

The only reason he was doing this was for political expediency and also to accelerate the process of getting a border wall built. But he admitted dring that pconf at the White House today, this was not a route he absolutely needed to take.

VANIER: Will that matter in court?

PATE: I think it will. Ultimately I don't think what the president said will determine whether this is an emergency or not. The law doesn't define what an emergency is.

VANIER: There's no legal standard.

PATE: There's no legal standard under this law for when an emergency is actually present.

VANIER: We're talking about the 1976 national emergency.

PATE: Exactly. It says there has to be a national emergency declared by the president. But it doesn't tell us what that is. There's no definition in the law of what a national emergency is. It is whatever the president says it is.

VANIER: Gabby, what kind of pushback does the White House expect from Congress over this?

ORR: It is already pretty widespread. We already heard from a handful of Senate Republicans and House Republicans who on ideological grounds or just the basis that they don't feel this is -- they feel this is this is an abuse of executive power and have said that they're really concerned about the precedent this sets.

As I mentioned earelire, if Congress passes a joint resolution and this goes to the Senate, you'll have 53 members of the Republican Party in the Senate forced to vote in terms of whether or not they back this emergency declaration. That's really going to put a lot of Republicans, people like Senator Mike Lee and Senator Rubio, who previously called this a terrible idea. That's going to put them on the record.

And it is going to come down to whether or not they're willing to back the president on this or whether they're willing to stand up to a president who they think and they've claimed previously is abusing executive privilege.

VANIER: Also, Gabby, you see this issue of a president bypassing congressional opposition and spending the money whatever way he wants. You could see this coming back to haunt Republicans at some point in the future.

ORR: Absolutely. We heard Nancy Pelosi hint at this yesterday. It was oddly reminiscent of 2013, when Senator McConnell was warning Harry Reid about invoking the nuclear option and saying this would almost certainly come back to bite Democrats. And it did with the Supreme Court nominations under this administration.

Speaker Pelosi said this is something that now a possible Democratic president in the future could invoke if they declare a national emergency over gun violence or over climate change.

There's myriad issues that constitutional conservatives, people opposed to this option, have laid out that are really driving the primary concern here. They say this sets a dangerous precedent and they wish the president would have taken a different route.

VANIER: Page, Mick Mulvaney, the acting chief of staff, has a ready- made answer for this -- this issue of whether or not it sets a precedent. He said no, it doesn't because the power is already afforded the to president in the law to declare this.

So it's not a precedent; it's in the law.

PATE: No, it depends on how you use the law. That's the whole problem here, since there's no definition in the law itself of what a national emergency is, we look to see what prior presidents have done and we'll see what this president does.

And so in the future, somebody looks at this law and sees a problem that the president thinks needs to be addressed but Congress is not addressing it or has rejected it, to the president saying, forget you, I'll dete this is a national emergency and I'll go forward and spend money that you have not appropriated.

I think that sets a dangerous pattern. It separates the long-standing principle that Congress controls the purse and they decide what gets funded and the president executes the laws. That's our separation of powers. It is really at risk in this situation.

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VANIER: Page Page speaking to me earlier, with Gabby Orr from "Politico."

Within hours of the president's declaration of a national emergency, congressional Democrats were demndg to know the legal basis for making such a claim.

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VANIER: Democratic congressman Jerry Nadler is chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. He said to Chris Cuomo that when the president said I didn't need to do this, it greatly weakened his own case.

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REP. JERRY NADLER (D), NEW YORK: The lawsuit will say that there's no real emergency. And he'll say there's a real emergency and he -- the defense will be that the president decides whether there's an emergency. The court can't look behind that and here the president is saying there's no real emergency.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN HOST: Right.

NADLER: That's a body blow to his case.

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VANIER: Special counsel Robert Mueller's team said President Trump's former campaign manager deserves to spend the rest of his life behind bars; 69-year-old Paul Manafort was convicted by a Virginia jury last year for bank and tax fraud and other crimes related to money that he earned from Ukrainian politicians. Our Evan Perez has details.

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EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Paul Manafort could spend the rest of his life in prison if a judge follows sentencing guidelines endorsed by special counsel Robert Mueller's prosecutors.

The guidelines call for between 19.5 and 24.5 years in prison. A federal jury in Alexandria, Virginia, convicted the former Trump campaign chairman guilty of financial crimes, including tax and bank fraud.

He's turning 70 this year. The prosecutors say he shouldn't get a break because of his age. They say that Manafort, quote, "acted for more than a decade as if he were above the law."

Manafort has separately pleaded guilty to federal charges here in Washington but a judge has voided the plea agreement after ruling that Manafort lied to investigators and to the grand jury during the time he was supposed to be cooperating.

A newly released transcript in from a hearing in D.C. federal court centers on the importance of Konstantin Kilimnik in Manafort's case. He was Manafort's business partner in Ukraine.

Special counsel Robert Mueller says Kilimnik is essentially a Russian spy. Manafort's lawyers have tried to push back against that, saying that Kilimnik also met with U.S. diplomats, suggesting perhaps he was a double agent.

During a sealed court hearing a few days ago, the judge said it doesn't matter. She said that Manafort lied about his communications with Kilimnik and the judge said that Kilimnik is the link between the Russians and the Trump campaign, which goes to the heart of Mueller's Russia investigation -- Evan Perez, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE) VANIER: Meanwhile, the special counsel's office said they now have evidence that former Trump campaign adviser Roger Stone had direct communications with WikiLeaks.

Earlier court filings had only outlined his attempts to communicate through intermediaries. Prosecutors say Stone wanted information about emails stolen by Russian hackers that could aid Trump's presidential campaign.

CNN has exclusively learned the special counsel's team has interviewed White House press secretary Sarah Sanders. The subject of the interview is not clear. But it could have something to do with how Sanders composed statements she made about the Russia investigation.

Sanders told CNN, "The president urged me, like he has everyone in the administration, to fully cooperate with the special counsel. I was happy to voluntarily sit down with them."

However, that may not be completely accurate. A source said the White House did not immediately agree to let Mueller's team interview Sanders.

And world leaders are in Munich discussing the state of peace and security. Why this conference may be different from previous ones. We're live in Germany after this.

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VANIER: Heads of state, defense ministers and security experts are in Germany for the security conference. This year the U.S. Is bringing its largest ever delegation. It is led by vice president Mike Pence. CNN's international diplomatic editor joins me.

Americans and Europeans are going into this conference amid a sharp disagreement on how to handle the Iran issue.

They are and the audience here perhaps won't be surprised in an hour or so when vice president Mike Pence speaks and the language that he used in a statement in Warsaw just in the past couple of days. He essentially chided European countries in general that have found another financial instrument to continue to do business with Iran. Trump says Iran is not sticking to the bargain. We can expect Mike Pence if he address it is and I think we can expect him to address it to say that Iran has to be considered not just on its compliance or as they would see it noncompliance with the agreement in terms of nuclear. This is a very big conference. It deals with global issues. A lot on the table here. Such a large U.S. Delegation send a very clear message, Mike Pence coming here sandy very clear message from Trump up and no doubt everyone will be listening to hear essentially what they believe Trump thinks about the global issues he wants Mike Pence to speak about.

Nic Robertson live from the Munich conference in Germany. Update us throughout the day, thanks, Nic.

It is winter in the Northern Hemisphere. The snow has been piling up all season long at ski resorts across North America. Many, though, are opting to ditch the long lines if a more unique experience. Who has been checking that out?

I had a unique experience and I got an opportunity to ski and if he board in the backcountry of northwest Colorado where they get the heaviest snowfall in the state. Every year around this time, ski snowboard enthusiasts and people like myself get excited about the prospects of heavy snow and winter storms. You need to see this. I'm the guy in the yellow and brown jacket. Take a watch.

As meteorologist, I thought I had the inside track on where the snow would dump. With the powder cats, they know when the snow is coming. We have perfect conditions. The allure of backcountry skiing comes from people's desire to skip the long line at resorts while virtually guaranteeing the deepest, softest, powdery turns one can imagine.

Traversing the terrain comes with challenges. That's why Steamboat Powdercats enlist guides and machinery to transport the customers to the best snow of their lives.

Like a Sno-Cat to have a bulldozer on track so that we can move through deep powder without getting stuck so to speak.

It is no coincidence that northwest Colorado consistently receives highest snowfall in the state.

This is one of the deeper snow packs.

This is a champagne powder. Low density and high fluff and maximum fun. Nice. As if skiing perfect snow all day long wasn't enough, there's even a gourmet meal and a warm drink waiting for us at this private cabin deep --

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VAN DAM (voice-over): -- in the wilderness. The 11 others that joined me clearly knew what they were doing. Me on the other hand, could have benefitted from another day on the mountain.

A lot of fun. Great story and assignment for CNN. Basically backcountry skiing is skiing anywhere other than a resort. It is rural wilderness that you're seeking so that up tracked deep powder with no queues at the resorts. We want the CFO to fall from the sky.

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VANIER: Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for watching. I'll be back with the headlines. Beautiful.