Return to Transcripts main page

CNN NEWSROOM

Sex Abuse Crisis - Sex Abuse Survivor: It's "Now Or Never" For Change; Trump White House - NYT: Trump Pressured Acting AG To Interfere In Cohen Probe; Trump White House - NYT Report On Trump Raises New Obstruction Question; 2020 Race - Bernie Sanders Raises Record $6M Since Launching His Second Bid; 2020 Race - Bernie Sanders Raises Record $6M Since Launching His Second Bid; 2020 Race - Bernie Sanders Raises Record $6M Since Launching His Second Bid. Aired 10- 10:30a ET

Aired February 20, 2019 - 10:00   ET

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


[10:00:00]

JUAN CARLOS CRUZ, SEX ABUSE SURVIVORS VATICAN SUMMIT ORGANIZER: Don't do what he's saying, and don't apply these laws, and don't -- are not transparent, and don't care for survivors. We're not going to get anywhere, and really, it's now, or never.

DELIA GALLAGHER, CNN VATICAN CORRESPONDENT: It points right to the question there of the bishops, and that's where the heart of this matter lies. It's important what the Vatican does, but it's very important what bishops do at the local level. The results of that, Poppy, we are going to have to see in the coming months, and perhaps even coming years.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: Yes. What will they actually do? Delia, thank you for being there again. This all kicks off tomorrow. Appreciate it.

Top of the hour. Good morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR AND CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: And I'm Jim Scuitto. Moments ago, the president lashing out at a "New York Times" report that is sparking serious questions about whether the president tried to obstruct justice.

The report says that the president asked then Acting Attorney General, Matthew Whitaker, if a US attorney, who had supported Mr. Trump in the past, could take over the federal investigation into the president's former attorney and fixer, Michael Cohen.

Whitaker rebuffed the request, and that attorney, that the president wanted, had -- we should note -- already recused himself.

HARLOW: Meantime, the former Acting FBI, director, Andrew McCabe, is raising some serious questions about how the Russian investigation started. Listen to him last night with Anderson Cooper.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Do you still believe the president could be a Russian asset?

ANDREW MCCABE, FORMER ACTING DIRECTOR OF THE FEDERAL BUREAU OF INVESTIGATIONS: I think it's possible. I think that's why we started our investigation, and I'm really anxious to see where director Mueller concludes that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: McCabe, the man who started that counterintelligence and obstruction probe, both of them and of the president, also says the president is undermining US intelligence services. It's the latest in a string of accusations, raising some serious concern too.

Let's start there this hour. Our colleague Karis Kanal has more. Good morning.

KARIS KANAL, CNN REPORTER: Morning, Poppy. I mean just more extraordinary statements and revelations coming from Andrew McCabe as he is out promoting his book. In his talk with Anderson Cooper last night, you know, he goes to this issue that he still thinks the president could be a Russian asset and he talks about the moments that they were deciding, right after the firing of FBI Director, James Comey, that they needed to open this investigation.

He said that they were obligated to do so, because there was a basis to believe that a crime had been committed. Really an extraordinary statement. He was also asked about the conversations that he had with Rod Rosenstein, the Deputy Attorney General, who had brought up in a meeting the notion of wearing a wire.

And McCabe had previously said on "60 Minutes", that he was not joking, because he brought it up again. But when he was asked last night whether Rod Rosenstein, should have worn a wire when he went to the White House to meet with Donald Trump, he said, "No, it could have been precedent setting, and that it was very invasive."

He also said that they knew what the president's mindset was when he had fired Comey, because he had been fixated on this notion of Russia. He'd gone on to talk to NBC, and say that one of the reasons that he had fired him was because of the Russia investigation.

You know he's also asked if the Trump family was under investigation, and Poppy, Jim, he declined to answer saying it could relate to ongoing investigations.

HARLOW: OK, Kanal. Thank you for that.

Now to the stunning report that President Trump asked former Acting AG, Matthew Whitaker, to select an attorney of his choice to oversee the Cohen probe.

SCIUTTO: Joining us now, one of the reporters who broke the story. Washington investigative correspondent for the "New York Times", Mark Mazzetti. Mark, always good to have you on. So you have so many lines to the story. One are, apparent attempts by

the president to pressure officials to hem in this investigation. But also, and this is key, to apply pressure, or influence over witnesses to the investigation.

I'm going to quote from your story here.

TEXT: "One of Mr. Trump's lawyers also reached out...to the lawyers for two of his former aides - Paul Manfort and Mr. Flynn - to discuss possible pardons. The discussions raised questions about whether the president was willing to offer pardons to influence their decisions about whether to plead guilty and cooperate in the Mueller investigation."

That is remarkable, because this has been a question throughout. The president has tweeted indications about what he's liked. When witnesses, what they've said, their resistance to the Special Counsel things he hasn't liked. Tell us more about this. How serious were these discussions?

MARK MAZZETTI, NEW YORK TIMES WASHINGTON INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: Well, what we've reported, and this was something that both the "New York Times" and the "Washington Post" had originally reported last year, was that during that summer of 2017, the lawyer for the President, John Dowd, had these sort of informal discussions with lawyers, both for Flynn and for Paul Manafort.

And this wasn't really, as we understand it, a direct quid pro quo. Don't cooperate with the Special Counsel in exchange, he'll get a pardon. But it was, sort of, exploring the idea that these people could get a pardon. And this was, as the Special Counsel was building cases against both men.

This is significant, I think, in part, because it's part of this pattern of activity that we tried to document in this story about the president, kind of --

[10:05:00]

MAZZETTI: -- throwing out rules about how you're supposed to be dealing with ongoing prosecutions, and tripping over the lines that normally exist between a president and ongoing federal investigations. And, of course, it should be said, federal investigations involving him.

So this is something that, as we said, it's gone on so long that it's no longer shocking, but it was important to put together into one story.

HARLOW: It was really important, and I encourage anyone who hasn't read the entire thing. It's worth reading all the way through, because paragraph after paragraph there are new nuggets of news, which the president this morning again is writing off.

Yesterday, he called a fake news. This morning, he went further, and he just tweeted, "The New York Times reporting is false. They are the true enemy of the people." What's your response? MAZZETTI: Well, I mean, besides the fact that, first off, we stand by

our reporting. The second point I'd make is, you know, it was only a couple weeks ago when the publisher of the "New York Times" sat in the Oval Office, and warned the president about the danger of the rhetoric he uses about the press being the enemy of the people.

These have consequences, not only in the United States, but around the world when other foreign leaders look to what the president says about the press. So these are dangerous, dangerous accusations. And the president, despite saying in that meeting that, you know, he would like to dial back the rhetoric. Clearly, he hasn't.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Another claim the president made is that the "New York Times" did not reach out to the White House about this story. You and your fellow reporters say that, that simply is false.

MAZZETTI: Absolutely not true. At times, late last week, reached out to the White House with a detailed account of what we were planning to report. We had follow-ups over the weekend. We didn't get a response. We published the story and then the president said what he said after the story was published.

HARLOW: Finally, quickly, the impact on the Mueller probe. What do you expect it could be from the new revelations in your reporting?

MAZZETTI: Well, we certainly know -- I mean, a lot of what we have reported, we have presumed that Robert Mueller knows about, it's part of his investigation. We know that Robert Mueller is investigating obstruction of justice.

The question of the the specific revelation about Whitaker it's hard to know. We know that Mueller has a broad mandate to look at what he wants. Whether in fact he would factor this anecdote, or episode into his investigation, it's unclear. But it certainly would, as we said, fits this pattern of how the president has treated investigations, and actually investigators over two years.

SCIUTTO: Mark Mazzetti of the "New York Times", thanks so much. Good to have you on.

MAZZETTI: OK. Thank you.

SCIUTTO: Let's go to the White House now. CNN's Kaitlan Collins there. We see the president tweeting and Caitlin, as you know, as well as us, that the president will often call stories he doesn't like false.

Inside the building there, folks you speak to, do they think they have a problem here?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well they're concerned about what these accusations are, and the president is denying the biggest bombshell of this story. That the president directed Matt Whitaker to try to change who is overseeing the probe into Michael Cohen, and those hush money payments.

But they also know that the overarching story here, as Mark was just pointing out, that the "New York Times" was just simply putting all together in one place. Is that the president has repeatedly publicly, on his Twitter account, and in comments he's made to reporters, tried to undermine these investigations that touch his presidency.

Now, we're seeing him lash out this morning saying that the "New York Times" reporting his false, several times on Twitter. And you can see there, just how many times he's attacked the investigation. So the overarching story here, it's definitely true. It's not something the president can deny, because it's something that he's said publicly and that's what they realize now.

The president has had a time to not only watch the coverage of this story since yesterday, when he first offered his initial response to the Whitaker story, but also see that this is a story on the front page of the "New York Times". And now he's expectedly lashing out on Twitter, which is pretty much what we expected.

HARLOW: Caitlin, thank you for being there.

Let's bring in Federal and White Collar Criminal Defense Attorney, Caroline Polisi. Of course, we should note that she was hired to represent George Papadopoulos in the DNC civil lawsuit against him.

Case is over, still represents him on another capacity. Thank you for being here. We heard Democratic Congressman, David Cicilline, who sits on the judiciary, and the Foreign Affairs Committee, tell us last hour, that if these allegations are true, if Whittaker was indeed asked by the president to put Geoffrey Berman in, to oversee the Cohen probe in the Southern District, that would constitute obstruction of justice. Would it?

CAROLIE POLISI, PIERCE BAINBRIDGE FEDERAL AND WHITE COLLAR CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: It would. It would definitely be part of a larger pattern or practice, sort of, a mosaic, sort of, theory of the case. But I think it's interesting to note that we now have three investigations that it's alleged that the president may have obstructed.

The first being the Michael Flint investigation, which prompted him to ask Comey to let the Flint thing go. The second being, sort of, the larger Russia probe in its entirety, with multiple, multiple things, too many to count.

HARLOW: Yes.

[10:10:00]

POLISI: And then now, you know, the SDNY case, which many, many people, not just myself included, have noted, is quite possibly the most dangerous and potentially damning to the presidency, even more so than the Mueller probe.

SCIUTTO: You make a good point, because it's part of a broader pattern here. And the allegation is, the president's working both sides of the investigation by trying to influence officials who have oversight, whether it be Sessions, Comey, Whittaker, but also witnesses to the investigation.

The New York Times reporting here, dangling pardons, which he's done to some degree in public comments as well. From a legal perspective, do you have to be successful in obstructing justice in order to break the law?

HARLOW: Yes.

POLISI: Oh, absolutely not. I mean, there's -- absolutely not. I mean, attempted law all the time. I mean, prosecutors charged attempted conspiracy, all the time. You don't actually have to, and I think that has been sort of the defense at the White House.

Well, nothing ever came of it, right? OK. I mean in every facet of every crime alleged here, the defense has always been, well nothing ever came of it. That's just wrong, legally speaking. But I do think, you know, it's interesting that that's, sort of, the last (CROSSTALK)

SCIUTTO: You know, it's funny, because that's the defense --

POLISI: Yes, yes.

SCIUTTO: -- with the Trump Tower meeting in June 2016. Yes. They offered us to Hillary Clinton --

HARLOW: Right.

SCIUTTO: -- but we didn't get anything --

HARLOW: Right.

SCIUTTO: -- therefore, it means nothing. You're right, it's a consistent excuse.

HARLOW: In terms of Andrew McCabe, and his bombshell, sort of, bombshell, after bombshell, with the subsequent interviews, he does to Anderson last night that he believes that it's possible that the president could be a a Russian asset.

You know, he is talking about an ongoing investigation --

POLISI: Right.

HARLOW: -- led by the agency, which he used to lead. What was your read of him saying that?

POLISI: I took him to be very credible? I think it was, you know, he's such a, sort of, low-key guy. That the words didn't necessarily impart, sort of, the gravity of the statement with which he related that the sitting president of the United States could quite possibly still be a Russian asset.

I think he, sort of, walked it back. He said witting or unwitting. I think, there's a big distinction there in semantics there. I personally feel like the biggest bombshell we got from all of the McCabe interviews has been Rod Rosenstein's interactions here -- HARLOW: You mean on the wire and the 25th amendment.

POLISI: Yes, and specifically on the wire. I think, last night on Anderson, he clarified the reason that he, one of the reasons that he, said no to the wire. He thought it would be a bad idea, was that he already had the corrupt intent. He already knew what the corrupt intent was of the president, and that was a pretty big bombshell.

SCIUTTO: And I do want to get to that, because you say, success is not necessary to be charged with a crime, attempted --

POLISI: Right.

SCIUTTO: -- obstruction of justice. Corrupt intent is, though, right? What does it take to establish corrupted intent?

POLISI: Well, that's a big question, and I think if you asked Alan Dershowitz, he would say, you know, under the unitary executive theory, it doesn't really matter what the intent was. But I think the vast majority of legal scholars would argue the other way.

HARLOW: Explain to everyone what the unitary executive theory is, because this has been discussed, in previous administrations too.

POLISI: Well, typically, I mean it just boiled down. It means that the president can't have corrupt intent, because, if he's acting in his capacity as head of the executive branch, as you know, commander-in- chief, therefore, you can't question his motivations otherwise.

SCIUTTO: That's what they did with Nixon.

POLISI: What's that?

SCIUTTO: That's what they did with Nixon.

POLISI: Exactly.

HARLOW: I know.

POLISI: And that's what many people have have been noting. It certainly is the minority view.

SCIUTTO: Or, Bill Clinton.

POLISI: Correct.

SCIUTTO: The articles of impeachment.

HARLOW: Right. There you go.

POLISI: Correct. The idea really is, if the underlying act is legal, meaning the firing of James Comey is legal.

SCIUTTO: I see.

POLISI: You can't lie. HARLOW: You did. It doesn't matter.

POLISI: Exactly.

SCIUTTO: OK. Understood.

HARLOW: Thanks Caroline. Appreciate it.

SCIUTTO: Thanks very much.

Lots to get to. Twenty-four hours, $6 million. It might be the senator's second run for president, but his backers are still feeling the burn, setting fundraising records already. It's remarkable.

HARLOW: It is astounding. Also, plus, what lawsuits? The White House is moving forward with its plans to shift federal funds to pay for a border wall despite a slew of legal challenges. We'll get into all of it.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[10:15:00]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HARLOW: Got 6 million bucks? Senator Bernie Sanders does. It's a big number. Just over 24 hours since he announced he's going to run for president again, his campaign says he has raised an eye-popping 6 million bucks.

SCIUTTO: It is, after all, that talk of him being on the outs. Let's discuss with Kevin Madden, Republican strategist, and Karen Finney, former Spokeswoman for the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign.

And, let's just for comparison, look at the fundraising figures for others who have announced their candidacy.

TEXT: DEMOCRATIC CANDIDATE FUNDRAISING. Sen. Bernie Sanders - $5.9 million in 24 hours. Sen. Kamala Harris - $1.5 million in 24 hours. Sen. Amy Klobuchar - $1 million in 48 hours.

SCIUTTO: Senator Kamala Harris, one and a half million in the first 24 hours. Senator Amy Klobuchar, 1 million, that over 48 hours. But Senator Sanders really dwarfing that.

And I wonder Karen Finney, in your view, is Sanders now effectively the front-runner?

KAREN FINNEY, FORMER SPOKESWOMAN FOR THE HILLARY CLINTON 2016 PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN: I think it's a little early to say that, but obviously he has a very strong fundraising base, because he did it. You know, he ran in 2016. He's clearly taken good care of that fundraising list, and stayed in contact through his organization, Our Revolution, and through his own efforts in contact with those supporters and donors and has a strong network. And that is going to be something that's going to be formidable, kind of, coming right out of the gate here for the other candidates to take notice of.

HARLOW: Kevin Madden, the candidate who has raised by far the most money, in the first, out of the gate here, is Bernie Sanders.

KEVIN MADDEN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Yes.

HARLOW: Who is not a Democrat. Who is an independent. Who is a self- described Democratic Socialist? What does that mean for the Democratic Party?

MADDEN: Well, first of all, I just do agree with Karen. I mean that is a very impressive number. What's really impressive about it, usually when you get that kind of number, it's with big dollars. He's done it with small dollars and he's minded off of internet donations.

HARLOW: Yes.

MADDEN: So that shows you that he has this real grassroots energy behind him, and --

[10:20:00]

MADDEN: I think that becomes the problem. I think many Republicans will hope that the problem becomes for Democrats is, that the grassroots energy in this party right now is, from the very far left, who was supporting essentially a socialist candidate. And that it will pull the entire primary debate far to the left, making it harder to win in a general election when your real, main task will be appealing to the big, broader middle of the American electorate.

So one of the things that, when you raise this type of money, the signal it sends is that Bernie Sanders is going to be in this race for the long haul.

HARLOW: Right.

MADDEN: Now, Karen knows the old line, right? Campaigns never run out of reasons to run. They always run out of money. This ensures that Bernie Sanders is going to be in it for the long haul. And so, if you want to beat him, you're going to have to beat them right now, you're going to have to try and blow him out of the race from the very get go.

SCIUTTO: Karen, the focus of the Democratic Party, many of the candidates will say, is on beating Donald Trump. Is this a good look, in effect, for the Democratic Party? Is this the right approach to 2020? To go so far left of center, when polls consistently show that most Americans have more center, and some polls even show center-right views on some of these key issues?

FINNEY: Well, look. I think we have to take a step back actually, because having just worked on a campaign in the south, on Stacey Abrams campaign in 2018, and looked at a number of other campaigns, the issue landscape in this country is, a little bit different.

And so, when we talk about things like expanding Medicaid, or we talk about things which, you know, some states have not done yet even under Obamacare. When we talk about, you know, common-sense gun safety measures, those issues actually pull pretty well in a lot of states where a lot of Americans see that as a more mainstream issue. They don't see that as a far left issue.

So there's a lot of things, with childcare, which Senator Warren has been talking about, that actually appeal to people, working people, in particular --

SCIUTTO: But then that's different than like 70 percent tax rates, right? And I'm not saying that's the whole party.

FINNEY: Sure, but--

SCIUTTO: You have AOC going down that path.

FINNEY: Well, she's not running for president.

SCIUTTO: Universal health care -- universal health care. I mean, you're talking about background checks, that's one kind of issue, but I'm talking about --

FINNEY: Yes.

SCIUTTO: -- issues further to the left of the political spectrum.

FINNEY: Right. But just because someone like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in the House is talking about something that is maybe, you know, some may perceive as being to the left. That's not necessarily going to influence what the presidential candidates are talking about, because I think what they all recognize is, yes, they're still in Congress, so they're going to have to, at the right time, comment on some of these things, because they may have to vote on them.

But they also have to put forward their own vision. So I thought Amy Klobuchar, for example, the other night, did a great job when she was talking about college affordability, and what she would do. I know that student looked like he was a bit disappointed.

So, I think, what you're going to see, and this is why the primary is so important, and I think the debates are going to be so important, you're going to hear all of these ideas really teased out with similar goals and values at their core, but different ideas about how we get there.

And, I think, that's going to be a really exciting thing for this country is, to actually have some conversations about ideas, and not just tweets attacking people.

MADDEN: Just to disagree, real quick. Ocasio-Cortez already does have all these people that are running for president on the Democratic side, reacting to her plan, her vision. Karen's right, these campaigns have to do a better job of, sort of, taking over the momentum of the the issue, debates. So that they're the candidates --

SCIUTTO: Right.

MADDEN: They're the people inside the party that are defining the profile for a larger American electorate. But to this point, they're all reacting to what, you know, a couple of members of Congress with about 30 days of legislative experience are framing out for the party.

HARLOW: And also, let's remember, Elizabeth Warren, who is running for president also. You know, proposing that wealth tax on people with any assets over $50 million. Also very far left.

Kevin, I wonder what you think his Achilles heel is going to be on policy right? Because so much of the awful research was just not focused on him until late in the game in 2016. And so, he didn't have to deal with that from the get go.

He will have to deal with that now out of the gate here within his own party. And I wonder if you think it is some of the key votes that he made on guns, and gun control, and background checks, especially back to the early and mid-90s.

MADDEN: Yes, I think he navigated that pretty well, though. I think what happens oftentimes in these presidential primaries is that they become less about issue votes, and they become more about attributes, such as leadership, vision, energy. I think that's the problem that Bernie Sanders is going to have.

In 2016, he was seen as the antidote to Hillary Clinton, and he was seen as a, sort of, new voice being added to the conversation. Now it's four years later, and he's a bit of a retread, and he's not a hundred percent name ID, and he's still only hovering in the top three.

Even though he was essentially the second-place finisher in 2016, you would think he'd be the presumed of, you know, poll leader, or front- runner right now. And instead, he's competing with Kamala Harris and Joe Biden.

[10:25:00]

MADDEN: So that's his big challenge, right now is, being the new, energetic, fresh face.

SCIUTTO: Wow. A retread who can earn, who could raise --

FINNEY: $6 million.

SCIUTTO: -- $6 million. You advise a lot of candidates. I'm sure you have --

(CROSSTALK)

MADDEN: Somebody is going to take the money.

HARLOW: There you go. Look, it's all fascinating as more and more get into this race. Kevin, Karen, thank you both.

FINNEY: Thank you.

MADDEN: Glad to be here.

Still to come for us, the White House is moving forward with plans to shift federal funds to pay for a border wall despite several lawsuits. We'll talk about it next with Senate Minority Whip, Dick Durbin. He's here.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[10:30:00]