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AT THIS HOUR

Mueller Could Reveal Key Details in Paul Manafort Filing; Michael Cohen Preps on Capitol Hill Ahead of Next Week's Congressional Testimony; 20th Century Fox Says Smollett Won't Appearing in Final 2 Episodes of "Empire"; Funds Trump Wants for Wall Building May Have Already Been Spent; Interview with Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY). Aired 11- 11:30a ET

Aired February 22, 2019 - 11:00   ET

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


[11:00:00] STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A lot of people watching that, as they will be Amy Adams and Regina King for their roles as supporting actress -- Jim and Poppy?

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: And the CNN doc "RBG," about Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, nominated for two. I'm not playing favorites. I'm just saying. You know? We'll be watching.

ELAM; That is a very good point. We are all going to be watching.

HARLOW: Stephanie, thank you. We'll see you Sunday night.

Thank you all for being with us. Jim and I will see you back here on Monday. I'm Poppy Harlow, in New York.

JIM SCUITTO, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Jim Sciutto, in Washington.

"AT THIS HOUR" with Kate Bolduan, starts right now.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan.

Even before the special counsel delivers his report to the attorney general, today could be the last chance for Robert Mueller to tip his hand on where exactly their conclusion is headed.

Here's why. Mueller's team has until midnight tonight to submit a sentencing memo in their case against Paul Manafort, Trump's former campaign chairman. This is the moment when prosecutors can lay it all on the table. Since Manafort's interviews have been a significant part of Mueller's investigation into Russia influence in the 2016 election, that could be significant new information could come out today.

He's not the only former member of Trump's inner circle back in the spotlight. Trump's personal attorney, Michael Cohen, was on Capitol Hill yesterday ahead of his testimony before Congress set for next week, a date that has been on again and off again more times than most witnesses or most of us want to count. What is he actually going to say?

And Trump ally, Roger Stone, is no longer allowed to speak publicly at all about his case.

CNN's Sunlen Serfaty and Evan Perez are covering all of this for us.

Even, let me start with you.

When it comes to Paul Manafort, what could come out in today's court filings? What's the range of possibility? What are you looking for?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: What we are looking for is to hear certainly from Andrew Weissmann, the lead prosecutor in the Manafort case, an overarching narrative of what happened in 2016 from the Russians through Konstantin Kilimnik, Paul Manafort's business partner in Ukraine, who according to the special counsel was essentially a Russian operative, to Paul Manafort, and then connecting to perhaps Candidate One, which is President Trump. We have already seen some hints from the special counsel in other court filings that they believe Kilimnik, Manafort is the linchpin, the connection between the Russians and the Trump campaign.

So one of the things that happens in the sentencing memos, Kate, is that prosecutors get a chance to sort of lay out a broader narrative. We have seen this in the Cohen sentencing memo, which is where prosecutors landed one of the biggest punches against the president, where they got to say that the president was essentially an unindicted co-conspirator in Michael Cohen's crimes. That's what we're looking for today. We are expecting that perhaps some of these things will be redacted. Kate, we always like fewer redactions. That's for us to understand what happened behind the scenes here.

BOLDUAN: We are leaning once again on Adobe to get it through.

PEREZ: Yes. Yes. Exactly.

BOLDUAN: Hold on one more second for me, Evan.

Sunlen, what are you learning about Michael Cohen and his upcoming testimony and what lawmakers are going to be asking him?

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: This is going to be a huge week for Michael Cohen on Capitol Hill, three appearances over the course of three days. I think Democrats on the committee, at least in the House Oversight Committee, that is the public on-camera portion of his time up on Capitol Hill, we expect to hear from them a lot of questions about the payments made to women who have alleged to have affairs with President Trump, which Michael Cohen had a part in. So we expect to see a lot of pointed questions on that end.

The House Oversight Committee chairman, Elijah Cummings, he has tried to lay out the parameters of what he would want his hearing to focus on. We will throw a few of those up. The payments, compliance with campaign finance laws, disclosures, tax laws, obviously, the business practices, Trump International Hotel. There's a slew of things they will be giving out. And the Intel Committees, House Intel, Senate Intel Committee certainly going to reference the Russia investigation and find out more from him. Those two will be behind closed doors. Yesterday, you said, Kate, Michael Cohen was on Capitol Hill seeming

to prep for this marathon that he has next week. He was behind closed doors in a secure room of the Senate Intel Committee perhaps reviewing committee documents and reviewing transcripts. He was really mum on what he was doing. His attorneys said he is conferring with his lawyers in advance of a big week next week.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely.

Evan, what is your sense then when the special counsel report will be finished and brought to the attorney general?

PEREZ: We are ready now. We are ready right now. I think one of the things the operative things here is that the new attorney general is very cognizant of not interfering or stepping on the president as he is launching his international trip. On Tuesday, he will be in Vietnam for the summit with the North Korean leader. So we are expecting that the Justice Department wants to make sure that they stay out of the way of that. That's why we are on guard for it today and perhaps Monday before the president leaves for his trip. If not, then perhaps after the president's trip. So we are waiting anytime now.

[11:05:24] BOLDUAN: What happens, what comes out of the court document, the sentencing of Paul Manafort, what comes of that.

PEREZ: Yes.

BOLDUAN: If it's filed during out hour, we'll bring it to you.

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: Thank you guys so much.

We also have breaking news out of Chicago that we want to get into in the unfolding drama involving actor, Jussie Smollett. 20th Century Fox announcing Smollett won't be appearing in the final two episodes of "Empire." Smollett is charged with filing a false report after claiming he was a victim of a hate crime.

Let me go to "Entertainment Tonight" host and CNN contributor, Nischelle Turner, for much more on this.

Nischelle, I want to get your take because you were able to get that statement from 20th Century Fox, as well. What is Fox saying?

NISCHELLE TURNER, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Basically, what they are saying is they are putting some distance between themselves and Jussie Smollett this morning when they have pretty much big backing him throughout this entire incident. They did put out a statement saying, to avoid any further disruptions, while they do care deeply for him, they are going to write Jamal off the last two seasons of the show. That's the character that he plays on "Empire." They will take him from the last two seasons.

This is in line from the reporting that we were getting yesterday from the set. Jussie did go back to work and did film one scene last night. This was a scene that was previously set to be filmed. But during the filming yesterday, he did apologize to the cast. It was very emotional we are told. He did apologize for putting them through this and he maintained his innocence and asked for their support.

In a statement the executive producers released today, they did say, we just want to not have any further disruptions. We are told that the cast and crew was really split after this emotional plea by Jussie last night. Half of them just want him gone. The other half feel for him. They empathize for him because everyone cared for him. I think it is creating a really tense working environment so the executive producer said we have a show to do, we want to remove this from the situation and let the legal system play out and try to get through the rest of the season.

BOLDUAN: Nischelle, stick with me.

I want to bring in CNN correspondent, Ryan Young, who has been following this.

Ryan, you have that statement. I want to make sure everyone knows exactly what the statement says from Fox.

RYAN YOUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Without a doubt. Basically, the statement says, "The events of the past few weeks have been incredibly emotional for all of us. Jussie has been an important member of our 'Empire' family for the past five years and we care about him deeply. While these allegations are very disturbing, we are placing our trust in the legal system as a process plays out. We are also aware of the effects of this process on the cast and crew members who work on our show. To avoid further disruption on the set, we have decided to remove the role of Jamal from the final two episodes of the season."

This is turning, almost like every hour, we are getting another piece of information. Yesterday, when we were talking to investigators and they told us about the $3,500 payment, we didn't realize they had the messages in between the two and the fact they may have rehearsed this at some point. You heard them say, and the superintendent of police say they gave them $100, the two brothers, to buy the supplies. There's video of them at a beauty supply store buying some of the supplies. At one point, it looks like they noticed they were on camera and looked up at it and kept buying the products. So this interesting how it's all played out. Today, I thought it might be a little more quiet than it was yesterday but you see this development, him being removed from that show, as quite unbelievable, especially since he left yesterday from court in that scrum and went right to work being followed by helicopters. It is unbelievable.

BOLDUAN: It really just follows the kind of whiplash nature, Nischelle, that has been the story, and how it went from, three weeks ago, Jussie Smollett was a victim of a hate crime to now he is charged with a felony of making a false report and taken off his show. You spoke with Jussie last week.

TURNER: Yes. BOLDUAN: How do you reconcile the mountain of evidence that the police say that they have against him and his aggressive denials? I mean, he's still denying it now.

TURNER: That is the $64 million question. How do you reconcile that? It really is the opposite end of the spectrum. You have the police department coming out with the mountain of evidence, laying bit by bit. They have a timeline of events that they laid out for everyone yesterday. You have Jussie and his family, on the other side, saying he is absolutely innocent, he didn't do this. And it's like a standoff. I'm not sure where there will be give, because he's doubling, tripling and quadrupling down.

[11:10:07] I thought it was interesting yesterday during the press conference when the police chief did lay out a motive, which was financial gain. He was dissatisfied with his salary on "Empire." Our reporting is that he went in to the show signing a seven-year deal at $65,000 an episode. Because the show was such a blockbuster hit the first couple years, the entire cast was given a raise and now he makes upwards of $100,000 an episode. I'm also told, because of the way the contracts are structured, even though he is being taken off the final two episodes of the season, it is likely he will get his money because usually the contracts go throughout the entire season and for the amount of episodes that are ordered. Even if you are not in an episode, you will get paid for that episode. If it was about finances, the finances are getting very murky right now.

BOLDUAN: I'm sure it is something when the police superintendent said that that was the motive, the fact that he was unhappy with his salary. And this is where things have gone and where they've ended up.

YOUNG: Yes.

(CROSSTALK)

YOUNG: Something that stands out to me, though, is how much do you want to believe these brothers? They also revealed that they were also providing drugs, sometimes molly to the actor. That came across as interesting to me.

I'm sure there's some middle ground here. Maybe he has some phone messages that are in between. But the idea that they may have played this out beforehand.

Another fact that stood out but kind of got washed over is the actor showed up late to where they were supposed to stage this attack and the brothers had to wait on the bench. I think that was part of the reason why police were able to pick them up on the video surveillance and watch their movements after they sat on the bench for quite some time. We heard that there were no other video images of two people together. When Jussie went on "Good Morning, America," he identified the two men who were the persons of interest as the attacker. That gave back the little bit of information they needed to take it forward. On top of that, we are told more warrants will be issued before next week. This is not going to stop. It will be interesting to see what happens next.

BOLDUAN: Nischelle, Ryan, thank you both so much. Really appreciate it.

TURNER: Thanks for having me, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Thank you.

Great to see you, Nischelle.

Coming up, President Trump declared a national emergency to go around Congress to get his money for his border wall. Now a new report says some of that money may not even be there. We're going to talk to the reporter who broke that story.

Plus, Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation could be completed within days. What will Congress see? Are Democrats gearing up for a legal battle? They say they are, but what is that going to look like? We'll ask the chairman of the key committee, ahead.

(COMMERECIAL BREAK)

[11:17:10] BOLDUAN: President Trump about to face a new challenge to his national emergency declaration for more funding for a border wall. Just minutes ago, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced that the Democratic-controlled House will be voting next week, Tuesday, on a resolution to end that emergency before he can get any extra money.

Even if that resolution goes nowhere, the president may already have a new problem on his hands. A new report says more than a third of the federal funds that he wants to redirect without the permission of Congress may not even be available because it might have already been spent. Seriously.

Let's get to that. John Donnelly is a senior writer at "Roll Call" who broke this story.

John, thanks for coming in.

JOHN DONNELLY, SENIOR WRITER, ROLL CALL: Good morning.

BOLDUAN: I want to remind all of our viewers where the president wants to get the extra money. You have $3.6 million from military construction money. Then you have $2.5 billion from the Pentagon drug interdiction program and $600 million from the assets forfeiture fund.

Your reporting is it is not all there.

DONNELLY: He wanted to use that counter-drug pot as sort of a weigh station for money. He wanted to move money from elsewhere in the Defense Department in order to get to the $2.5 billion he wants for that. I learned there's practically nothing left in that pot, $85 million, which is next to nothing. His number-one point is that he is going to have to move almost all of the $2.5 billion from other Defense Department programs which are not significant or are not necessary in contrast to what he said last year when he presented the defense budget. That is point one. He will have to move at the $2.5 billion from other programs.

BOLDUAN: I want to make sure our viewers don't miss that. Only $85 million is left in that fund. That's like $2.4 billion short of what they say they need. This is why they were going all of these routes to find these pots of money because the president wanted to land on that big top-dollar point that he was seeking. It seems like there's no --

DONALLEY: Right.

BOLDUAN: So if the money is not all there, how does he get it? How does he do it? Another redirect?

DONNELLY: He is going to have to move it from other Defense Department programs that he has not identified yet. And we always knew he was going to have to do some of that, but we didn't know he would have to get almost all $2.5 billion from other DOD programs. He can do that. Every single time that a president in the past has tried to move that much money, he has gone to Congress, not just gone to the House and the Senate, but gotten approval from both parties in both chambers. I'm told that that is not a law but just a tradition and a norm. It is one that has never been violated. It is really important because while Trump supporters think this would be a victory to move the money around in order to build a wall, they may not think the same when another president from another party is trying to do the same thing. So it tears a hole, if you will, in the fabric of cooperation between the president and the Congress and between the parties.

[11:20:44] BOLDUAN: What are you hearing from the Pentagon about this? Are you hearing anything from the White House about this?

DONNELLY: Well, the Pentagon is going to hold a press conference today where they are going to lay out what they plan to do.

Another thing that is going to be brought up is they are going to argue that there's something called general transfer authority that enables them to move up to $4 billion from here to there in the budget and just notify Congress about it and not ask their permission. But that authority has only ever been done when it is for something that Congress has not shown it is opposed to. Congress just this month voted to provide only $1.4 billion for the wall. So they are on record as to what they want to do on this program. So it would be unprecedented if the president were to use that authority to try to move the money around. It's unprecedented in almost every path that he could take is pretty much without precedent.

BOLDUAN: On the most basic level, when I was reading your report, I was left wondering, did they not check this when they announced where the money was going to come from?

DONNELLY: They may not have known that there was almost nothing left in the counter-drug pot, if you will. They did know that they were going to have to move money from elsewhere in the Pentagon budget, put it in the pot for a second, and move it toward the wall. They knew they were going to do that.

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: So we don't know where the money will come from, is what I'm learning. If you don't know --

DONNELLY: Right.

BOLDUAN: It is going to be money from something. They will have it literally dip a toe in the drug forfeiture fund and be sent elsewhere.

DONNELLY: Bingo. And, yes, we don't know what they will cut to do that. We also don't know what they will cut in military construction projects, that other pot of money that you alluded to, in order to find the $3.6 billion or so for that. And all those programs have constituencies, including Republican support. So it will create some howls of protest.

BOLDUAN: I'm really interested to hear what the Pentagon has to say today.

John, thanks for bringing this to us. Really appreciate your reporting.

DONNELLY: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Coming up for us, "Every time Trump meets with Putin, the country is told nothing" -- those are the words of the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. That's what he says. So what are Democrats preparing to do to get that detail? The chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee joins me next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:27:51] BOLDUAN: As we await the announcement that the Robert Mueller investigation, Russia investigation is complete, a real and still unanswered question is, what will Congress get to see and what will the public be able to learn?

Joining me now is the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Democratic Congressman Eliot Engel, of New York.

Congressman, Mr. Chairman, thanks for being here.

REP. ELIOT ENGEL, (D-NY), CHAIRMAN, HOUSE FOREIGN AFFAIRS COMMITTEE: Great to be here. Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Appreciate it.

The result of this investigation by the special counsel gets directly to your committee and the oversight that your committee has. What do you think you will eventually see? What's your impression at this point?

ENGEL: I hope we will eventually see that the administration will decide and understand the Constitution, that Congress is a separate branch of government and it isn't simply that the White House makes decisions and then Congress goes along. We can't go along if we don't know what the decisions are. And we find out later on that decisions were being made. It is just the whole attitude that they want to shut us out. That's why I issued the letter with two or three other chairmen yesterday because we want to send notice to the administration that, once again, we are a co-equal branch of government. Article I of the Constitution talks about the legislative branch. And we are entitled to get classified hearings and other hearings and briefings from the administration and we are not getting there. So out of frustration we issued a letter. I hope things will change. I won't hold my breath.

BOLDUAN: I want to ask you about North Korea in a second and the upcoming summit.

The attorney general, as it is written, is obligated to tell Congress that the investigation is done and whether Mueller was prevented from any of his investigative efforts. Really nothing more is required. If that is just what is done, a notification to Congress that it is done, do you plan to issue subpoenas to try to get more detail?

ENGEL: I have always said the subpoenas should be the last thing we do, not the first thing. We will do it if we need to do it. It is not only my committee but some other committees, as well.

BOLDUAN: Do you think after the attorney general makes that announcement, is there a way short of a subpoena you think you will be able to convince the administration to give you more information?

[11:30:05] ENGEL: Well, again, I won't hold my breath. But I do think that we need to know, the American people need to know.

END