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Worker Says I Falsified Absentee Ballots at GOP Operative's Direction; "New York Times" Says Trump Asked Acting Attorney General to Put Trump Supporter in Charge of Cohen Investigation Despite Recusal; Judge Summons Stone After He Appears to Threaten Her. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired February 19, 2019 - 14:00   ET


[14:00:00] BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: Was very clear and that it was intentional and you're talking about a Republican candidate who hired this consulting firm and actually he with his personal involvement chose this operative, McCray Dallas, who was a previously convicted felon, felony perjury. He and his wife were accused of taking out a life insurance policy on someone who was dead and collecting on it and he was --


KEILAR: I am not. My point is this is the taint going on in this 9th district. So why not just do it over clean? Why are you arguing for when you can't prove the math that you are talking about, why not do it over?

WOODHOUSE: First of all, I would simply disagree with you that you can't prove the math. The board of elections does that routinely. In any other election and we have had new elections. It is then because the outcome of the election was affected. I would remind that you 283,000 people cast legal votes in this race. We had the NBA All Star Game in North Carolina this week. That is 14 capacity crowds of an NBA All Star Game. Three capacity crowds of the Daytona 500. We don't throw out all those votes cast legally unless we absolutely have to. We are dealing -- I am not justifying anything bad happened. People should be prosecuted who broke the law. I'm saying the levels of irregularities have to rise to a level to conceivably bring the outcome into question. Ma'am, we are simply not there.

KEILAR: That is your opinion. I will say it is unclear how many ballots were turned in by these fraudsters. Thank you for being with us. That's it for me, "Newsroom" with Brooke Baldwin starts right now.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: Brianna, thank you very much. We are going to take it over from here. I'm Brooke Baldwin. We are going to die right into our breaking news this afternoon. President Trump may have tried to interfere in the Michael Cohen investigation. This is all coming down from "The New York Times" they are reporting the President spoke to his acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker about this notion of getting the U.S. attorney of the Southern District of New York to un-recuse himself from that Cohen investigation. So, Mark Mazzetti is one of the reporters over at the "Times" who broke this story open. Let's start at the beginning. How did this conversation play out between the acting AG and the President of the United States?

MARK MAZZETTI, REPORTER, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": So not long after Whitaker was installed as the acting Attorney General, Trump calls him and asks whether a new person could be put in charge of the Michael Cohen investigation that's being taking place up in New York. He asks whether the U.S. attorney who had to recuse himself out of a conflict of interest could be put in charge. Trump thought that this individual, Jeffrey Berman, might actually be more of an ally and clearly it indicates that the President saw their investigation up in New York as being problematic and potentially kind of spiraling out of control. So that was the request he put in to Matt Whitaker.

BALDWIN: And Whitaker ultimately said what?

MAZZETTI: Whitaker was unable to do anything about it. It appears he didn't take too many steps to follow through on the President's request, knowing full well that actually trying to get someone put back in charge un-recuse was something he did not have the power to do in the Justice Department. As we reported, Trump eventually sours on Whitaker. He is angry Whitaker is not able to carry out some of the tasks that the President had hoped he Might be able to do. So, it was one kind of window into the President's attitude toward law enforcement, towards these investigations, which as we report are kind of encircling him.

BALDWIN: All right. So, you have President Trump and his conversations with the acting Attorney General. Who are some of the other players involved in this whole thing within the White House? Who else would know about this?

MAZZETTI: Well, in terms of his conversations with Whitaker, it's unclear. We don't know who else the President Might have spoken to or who might have been in on these conversations and but as we report in the story, the two-year campaign that the President has undertaken to kind of thwart these investigations is something that's been carried out at a very high level. It's been carried out by officials inside the White House. Sometimes it's tried to be blocked by White House lawyers. But this is something that the President has undertaken with the help of his top aides.

[14:05:08] BALDWIN: Now, just recently, we saw Matt Whitaker up in the hot seat on Capitol Hill. If memory serves, he was asked more or less, you know, did the President ever pressure you, right? With regard to the Mueller investigation, the SDNY investigation. And his response, mark woods know, so that doesn't jive with what you are hearing. Correct?

MAZZETTI: Right. And first he was kind of loathed to get into any discussions he had with the President. But then was fairly firm in saying that he had not been pressured by the President on any of these various investigations and after our story published, we released a statement from the Justice Department saying as much. We might then question the wording of the statement. The question is, what is one person's definition of pressure. Was this indeed pressure or request? We are certainly confident in our reporting. As we reported, this is also something that the House Judiciary Committee is now looking into the veracity of math coup Whitaker's comments.

BALDWIN: OK. All of this as you guys are reporting all in relation to the SDNY Michael Cohen investigation. He wanted Mr. Berman in charge of that along a parallel track, have you the special counsel Robert Mueller investigation, certainly a piece of that is looking into potential obstruction of justice. How might what you have found -- and I have a judge and a lawyer standing by who maybe will be better to respond to this, but how might what you have found impacts the Mueller case?

MAZZETTI: That is a good question. It's certainly unclear. Right? Mueller is looking at something separate. He is looking at the Russia interference in the campaign, but, of course, any crimes that come along his path in the course of the investigation. We do believe and have reported that the President is being examined by Mueller for broadly the question of obstruction of justice. The question of whether Mueller would ever charge the President is one where many people believe that he won't because of current Justice Department policy. It's ultimately going to be Congress that decides whether the President obstructed justice. But it's certainly something that Mueller could look at if he wanted to, because he does have a pretty broad mandate.

BALDWIN: OK. Mark Mazzetti reporting. Thank you for walking us through what you all have found. Let's get analysis of all of the above. I have with me chief legal analyst Gloria Borger, Paul Callan and former federal judge Kevin Sharp. So welcome to all of you. Gloria, first to you, as you were listening to mark on the news nuggets, what as someone in the leads and all of this for so long, what jumped out to you?

GLORIA BORGER, CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, first of all, this question of whether Whitaker actually instead truthfully to Congress, about whether he had been pressured by the President of the United States to get involved in this investigation. We now learn that, in fact the President wanted to put his perceived loyalist in charge in SDNY after he had been recuse. The other thing is in the piece is that we learn that the White House lawyers had written a memo because they were concerned about Misleading public statements about why General Flynn had been fired. Remember Sean Spicer had gone to the podium, he got instructions about what to say and the White House lawyers were saying, wait a minute, wait a minute, that might not be absolutely truthful. That were very concerned about it. The other thing that's interesting here, to me, is that, you know the White House team has always said that the President has authority under article 2 of the Constitution to do whatever he wants, to basically fire anybody, et cetera, and he could not obstruct justice because he was doing it in public. And that is still the argument that they are using. And for --

BALDWIN: Just because it's been out in the public.

BORGER: He's tweeted about it a thousand times.

BALDWIN: It doesn't mean it's not extraordinary.

BORGER: We have to see what the special counsel says about this and whether, in fact, obstruction is something that he can really use against the President.

BALDWIN: Judge Sharp, let me go to you, next, on from everything you have read, everything you have heard from Mark Mazzetti over at the "Times." This notion he wanted this one individual to be in charge of the SDNY investigations, because perhaps he can make it go away, work more favorably in his eyes. Would that constitute obstruction of justice?

[14:10:08] KEVIN SHARP, FORMER FEDERAL JUDGE: Well, you know, I will start off by saying I have not had a chance to read Mark's piece so what I have learned is what I am picking up by just I was actually in court today and picked this up. As I'm listening to it and some on the news as on my way over here. But, you know, what is that conversation? What did they say? What did they talk about? Was the Attorney General actually pressured or was it just an offhanded comment? I don't know. There are a lot of pieces to that elements to that crime, if there is one or an attempted one that we just don't know. Will Robert Mueller follow up on that? I don't know. There is a lot going on right now. We think that is something that's more appropriate for Congressional committee to investigate. But certainly, ought to be investigated. It needs to be looked into. Whether a crime has been committed or another piece of a crime, it's really too early to say.

BALDWIN: I was just listening to our air in the last hour, you had a former White House counsel for the Clinton White House Jack Quinn saying this is an impeachable offense. He caveated that saying as this has been breaking in this 20-page piece, he didn't read it either. Given everything he heard it seemed possible. Paul Callan, I hope you have read the piece and have an opinion on, you know the law here.

PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, Brooke, you know I have an opinion about everything.

BALDWIN: Thank goodness. Proceed.

BALDWIN: And I have read the "New York Times" piece. It was an excellent piece. But I do not think that this is going to rise to the level of an obstruction of justice charge. Based on what we know.

BALDWIN: Why not?

CALLAN: I think it's astonishing, by the way, that the President would still be trying to ask these inappropriate questions and stick his nose into this investigation two years into his presidency.

BALDWIN: This is the time check for everybody watching. This is just in the last couple of months that this allegedly occurred.

CALLAN: There has been so much criticism of him and his attempts to interfere in the investigation. You would think he would step back. Obviously, he brings Whitaker in, who he thinks is going to be his new man. He puts some kind of idea in Whitaker's head, whether we could call it pressure or not, can we get Berman back in charge? Why do we want Berman back in charge if you are Trump? Berman used to be Giuliani's partner at a New York law firm. They were involved in the Trump campaign. He's thinking of putting Berman in charge of the Cohen investigation and that will go away possibly. Jeffrey Berman has done exactly the right thing. He recused from that investigation because it was prior relationship with the Trump campaign and I think, though, that asking Whitaker if Berman could be put back in charge of the investigation, just doesn't rise to the level of criminal conduct. The President of the United States has the right to ask his acting Attorney General is it OK to do this? Would it be possible to do this? Now, that's very different, Brooke, from saying, listen, Whitaker, you better get Berman back on the case or you're out.

BALDWIN: Let me interject. If, here's a line from the "Times" piece, I'll read part of it. Whether Whitaker said part of his role was to quote jump on a grenade for the President. I mean, does this, Paul, possibly shed a little light on why this President wanted Matt Whitaker to be his acting ag, he thought he'd have a defender at the DOJ?

CALLAN: I think it sheds a lot of light on it. Getting a guy to jump on a grenade is exactly what Trump wanted. He was pounding Jeff Sessions ever since the day Sessions recuse himself.


CALLAN: The question is having somebody so loyal to you that he would jump on a grenade to protect you, still doesn't make out criminality. Brooke, you have to have a specific order with a specific intent to obstruct a criminal investigation. Based on what I see in the "Times" I don't see it yet. I'm not saying it couldn't be proven if other facts come to light. This is not enough.

[14:15:00] BALDWIN: Stand by one quick second. Because we are now getting some information. We are hearing from the Department of Justice about Whitaker's testimony. Stand by for that. Plus, today a federal judge calling Roger Stone back to court after he appeared to threaten her with this inflammatory social media post, this after he was already placed on a gag order. Is Roger Stone about to have his bail revoked or more? We will talk to Judge Sharp about that. You are watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.


BALDWIN: We are back. This is CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin. The breaking news, this is an update. The "New York Times" has been reporting President Trump spoke with his acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker about getting the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York to recuse himself from the Michael Cohen investigation.

[14:20:00] Now we have reaction from the DOJ, this is what they are saying, quoting, under oath to the House Judiciary Committee then acting Attorney General Whitaker stated that at no time has the White House asked for nor have I provided any promises or commitments concerning the special counsel's investigation or any other investigation, Mr. Whitaker stands by his testimony. So, we have that from the Department of Justice, briefly, Gloria. Do you want to respond?

BORGER: They're saying he wasn't pressured into doing anything and he apparently didn't do anything, because Mr. Berman is not in charge of this investigation and I think what you will have now are the, is the committee Democrats really combing through this testimony just to see if he did perjure himself. And he apparently didn't do anything, because Mr. Berman is not in charge of this investigation and I think what you will have now are the, is the committee Democrats really combing through this testimony just to see if he did perjure himself. But, at no point did he volunteer that, in fact, he had had a conversation with the President about this, nor was he asked specifically whether the President had asked him to change who's in charge at the SDNY of this investigation so we have to see how this plays out.

BALDWIN: OK. We'll stand by on that. Meantime, sorry, Paul Callan, your reaction to that.

CALLAN: Yes. I agree completely with Gloria. At least what we have seen in the public record so far doesn't indicate that it rises to the level of pressure, at least if we believe Whitaker's testimony. So once again, I think i$ shows the President, you know, should be embarrassed for himself that he constantly does this improper stuff. But does it rise to the level of criminality? Not yet.

BALDWIN: Pamela Brown is standing by, too, our senior White House correspondent. Pamela, we talk so much about this President and loyalty as we talk about Jeff Sessions. We talk about James Comey, now we're talking Matt Whitaker and what he did or didn't do with regard to, you know, influencing the Cohen examination. What say you?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. We were first to report, me and my colleague Laura Jarrett between the President and Matt Whitaker when the President spewed to him about the SDNY investigation into his former attorney Michael Cohen. The President was not happy about it. He wanted Whitaker to do something about it. We did report there were no commitments made or promises made about the commitment Whitaker had said during his public testimony. But what is new in this New York time's reporting, which is really interesting, Brooke the President reportedly asked whit caner to put Jeffrey Berman back in charge of the Cohen investigation, for usually Berman to un-recuse himself as the U.S. attorney there in the Southern District and to oversee this investigation. Because he thought that in his Mind that Berman would be more of a loyalist. It is true that Berman has been a past supporter. But in Trump's Mind, he thought if Berman was overseeing the probe, it would be better for him according to this reporting in the "New York Times". As we know, that did not happen and Whitaker has told his associates according to this reporting, Brooke, his job is to basically jump on a grenade for the President. Now this all goes back to of course this testimony between Whitaker and lawmakers. I think it was last week or the week before. And this came up, whether he talked about the SDNY probe with the President. If you notice, he said, I do not talk about my conversations with the President. But he didn't say the same thing about the Mueller probe. He simply said, I didn't talk about the Mueller probe with the President and our reporting is that SDNY was a point of contention and what the President was focused on and talked to the Attorney General about the issue.

BALDWIN: Thank you so much. We will come back to all this news. Meantime, Robert Stone about to have his bail revoked? A federal judge calling Stone back to court after he appeared to threaten her with inflammatory social media post. This after he was already placed under a gag order. We'll discuss this next.


BALDWIN: The man with the Nixon tattoo, is adding a new role to his infamous list, attack, attack, attack, then say, sorry. Today a federal judge saying Roger Stone appeared to threaten her, his Instagram account posted and deleted showing judge Amy Jackson next to crosshairs mimicking the scope of a rifle. The scope attacked the judge labeling her as a quote/unquote, Obama appointed judge and claimed legal trickery by deep state Robert Mueller guaranteed the judge would oversee a show trial.

After deleting said post and disabling comments, they issued separate apologies via court filings, please inform the photograph and comment was improper and should not have been posted. I had no intention of disrespecting the court and humbly apologize to the court for their discretion.

Today the Judge Jackson appeared Stone to appear in her federal court on Thursday for a new hearing on his gag order. The judge wants him to explain this Instagram post and decide if she should change or revoke the immediate contact order in Stone's release.

So former federal judge Kevin Sharp with me now, thank you for being with me. What are, looking at first to Thursday, what are the judge's options? Does he go to jail? Full gag order? Slap on the wrist? What do you think?

SHARP: Well, I think you got several options, first, the idea that this wasn't meant to disrespect the judge or the court. I've got a hard time believing that one. It couldn't have been more inappropriate and to put crosshairs on there goes beyond inappropriate. It's dangerous. Even if Mr. Stone didn't intend to imply or ask someone to actually take and conduct an act of violence against the judge. It's entirely possible and that appears to be a part of his --