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Russia Investigation - Mueller Could Tell All In Last Major Court Filing In Manafort Case; Russia Investigation - Michael Cohen Set To Testify Before Three Committees Next Week; Russia Investigation - Washington On Edge As DOJ Prepares For Mueller Report; Actor Charged - Smollett Defiant Amid Allegations He Staged Attack; Actor Charged - Smollett Defiant Amid Allegations He Staged Attack; 2020 Race - Soon: Sen. Harris To Speak At African-American Women's Event. Aired 10- 10:30a ET
Aired February 22, 2019 - 10:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: -- Poppy Harlow. It could be the last big reveal before the final reveal, and its due any time now. A court filing showing why Robert Mueller thinks former Trump Campaign Chairman, Paul Manafort, deserves to spend years, perhaps the rest of his life, in prison.
This will be Mueller's longest-running case in the Russia probe, and his filing comes just days before he is expected to hand in his final report to the new Attorney General.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR AND CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: We could be learning a lot today. Let's be frank, this comes one day after the DC judge, who will decide Manafort's sentence, threatened another of the president's former confidants with jail, Roger Stone. No longer allowed to say a public word about his case after an Instagram post that trashed the Special Counsel and appeared to threaten the judge in the case.
Then, of course, there's Michael Cohen, the president's longtime lawyer and fixer, who is heading to prison in May, but not before spending three days next week before three different congressional committees, an enormous amount to unpack here.
Let's begin with the Manafort memo, and CNN's Evan Perez. It strikes me -- what's key about this Manafort memo is beyond his legal wrongdoing. Is the prosecutor here has to lay out his broader thinking about the case, and the involvement of Russia?
EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. I think this is the opportunity that Andrew Weissmann, was a prosecutor, lead prosecutor on the Manafort case, has to essentially lay out all of the reasons why he thinks Paul Manafort should get the most time in prison that he is legally allowed to in the DC case.
Now, he's got two cases, one in Virginia, which he said is being sentenced on March 8th and then March 13th, it's here in in Washington DC.
TEXT: AHEAD FOR PAUL MANAFORT. MARCH 8: Sentencing in Virginia for 8 financial fraud convictions. Prosecutors say he should face up to 25 years in prison. Could also pay tens of millions of dollars for tax and bank fraud. MARCH 13: Sentencing in DC. Pleaded guilty to conspiracy and then broke his plea deal.
PEREZ: The one in Virginia, is all about financial crimes. It's the stuff that the president's supporters like to point out has nothing to do with with the President and with the campaign. But the March 13th sentencing has everything to do with -- has a lot to do with -- what Manafort was doing, including during the campaign.
And so, this is where we think Andrew Weissmann will be able to lay out some of his theories, including how the Russians connect to Konstantin Kilimnik, who is allegedly, according to the Special Counsel, a Russian operative to Paul Manafort, and then perhaps candidate one.
And so, that's what we're waiting for today. It could come at any time.
SCIUTTO: And these these filings are often redacted to take away classified information. But on that key question as to candidate one, and the ties between Manafort and the President himself, then candidate Trump, is it likely that we will learn something from this public, or finally?
PEREZ: I think we will. I think this is again, one of the last opportunities that Andrew Weissmann has, to be able to lay out exactly what happened here. And so, we've seen this, Jim, in other cases.
There's the Michael Cohen case, for instance. The sentencing memo is where we frankly have seen the biggest punch landed against the president. Where they'd essentially called him an unindicted co- conspirator with Michael Cohen's crime.
SCIUTTO: Would learn a lot today and then, of course, everybody's on pins and needles about the final Mueller Report. At least him reporting that to the Attorney General.
Poppy, we're certainly staying on top of this.
HARLOW: Yes, for sure. So, let's bring in our colleague Sunlen Serfaty to take a look at Michael Cohen and the week ahead.
Good morning to you Sunlen. So he was on Capitol Hill, I think surprising all of you Capitol Hill reporters yesterday. Do we know why? And then also what can we expect from him next week, because he has three separate rounds of testimony?
SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right Poppy. Certainly, this will be quite a week for Michael Cohen. Three separate appearances up on Capitol Hill over the course of three days. That's kicking off on Tuesday. That's where he'll be interviewed by members of the Senate Intel Committee behind closed doors. Then on Wednesday, that's the big one. That is the first public, in front of cameras, testimony in front of the House Oversight Committee. And then on Thursday, he will sit down again in a closed-door session in front of that House Intelligence Committee.
And the Chairman of the House Oversight Committee, Elijah Cummings, he has outlined sort of the parameters of what he wants his hearing to focus on. You see a lot of those topics there, most notably, of course, the president's payoff of to -- that Michael Cohen, made two women alleging that they had affairs with the president during the 2016 campaign.
TEXT: SCOPE OF COHEN'S HOUSE OVERSIGHT TESTIMONY. Debts and payments about efforts to influence the 2016 election. Compliance with financial disclosure requirements, campaign finance & tax laws. Conflicts of interest. Business practices. Trump International Hotel in Washington. Public statements. Trump Foundation. Public efforts to intimidate Cohen not to testify.
SERFATY: Financial disclosures, compliance with campaign finance laws. Certainly a lot to pick through there. And Michael Cohen, as you said, was on Capitol Hill yesterday. He spent many, many hours behind closed doors in the Senate Intel Committee hearing room.
That's where -- that he potentially having access to classified documents, to -- excuse me documents and testimony that he made before potentially reviewing that. Now, his lawyer wouldn't say if he indeed was reviewing his past. His testimony only saying, then that he was conferring with lawyers, but certainly notable that he was huddled up for most of the day, certainly preparing for that big week next week.
Now, the timing is notable here, while Michael Cohen spends all this time in front of hearing cameras, and behind closed doors next week, Donald Trump, President Trump will be some 8,000 miles away in Vietnam.
SERFATY: Of course, that timing notable and, of course, all of this comes before Cohen is set to begin his three-year prison term in May, Poppy.
HARLOW: OK, Sunlen, thank you very much. Of course, Jim you'll be there for special coverage with the president on this historic summit. But you got to think he's going to be very tuned in to what Michael Cohen has to say as well.
SCIUTTO: You might think he'd be watching the news while he's over there.
SCIUTTO: He has been known to do that. Joining us now to talk about all these developments, former Federal Prosecutor, Jennifer Rodgers, and Republican consultant and host of PBS's "Firing Line", Margaret Hoover. Margaret, we should note also served as White House Associate Director of Inter-Governmental Affairs under President George W. Bush.
Jennifer, if I could begin with you. So Michael Cohen, in his public testimony, at least before the Hill next week, cannot testify about the Russia aspects of this investigation. However, he can, and we know he will be, asked about other alleged crimes that he has implicated the president in, specifically about using campaign money as hush money and, therefore, influence a campaign. Tell us about the significance of his testimony.
JENNIFER RODGERS, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Well, I was actually a little surprised, Jim, at the breadth of the topics that the chairman says that Cohen will be testifying about. I thought maybe he would not be testifying about things that prosecutors are still pursuing. And it does seem that the Southern District of New York is still looking at the hush money payments, and deciding whether or not to charge anyone in that probe.
So I think we could hear a lot of detail. We could even learn the identity of "executive two" at the Trump Organization, who had to give permission to Alan Wiesenberger, the CFO, to pay Cohen back for those hush money payments.
So you know we can learn a lot of color. We could learn who else is implicated. You know, and the topics even are broader than that. I mean, they talk about the violation of tax laws, for example, which could go to those hush money payments. But also could be broader than that, and including time before the president was the president.
So I think we could learn a lot. I'm surprised at how broad that the list is worded. We'll have to see if it turns out that he speaks about all of those things publicly, but I'm anxious for it. I think we could learn a lot.
HARLOW: And Margaret, as a Republican consultant, just put that hat on for a moment. I'm interested in your read, and what your advice would be to Republicans in these committees who will be questioning Michael Cohen, right? You know how broad the list is that Elijah Cummings, that the chair of the Oversight Committee is, that the outlined, including hush payments, etc.
What would your advice be to those Republicans who are doing the questioning, of course, in the public hearing. And then also, behind closed doors, because there can often be a lot of showboating on both sides?
MARGARET HOOVER, REPUBLICAN CONSULTANT: There's going to be showboating on both sides. Republicans and Democrats need to just do their jobs and get to the truth, right? The job of the Congress is to be a check on the Executive Branch. And their role as the check and balance in the society is to get to the truth of the matter, and to try to uncover, and learn as much as possible as they can about the functioning of the man who holds the highest highest seat in the executive branch.
Forget the showboating, the ideas that get to the truth and for Michael Cohen, what I would recommend, and what I'm sure his lawyers are telling him, is that he certainly has a prison sentence ahead of him. But it's a relatively short prison sentences as serious federal prison sentences go.
He should be the best actor possible, as cooperative as possible, because he should be thinking about how he's going to rebuild his life afterwards. So his best bet is to be as forthcoming, as truth-telling, and come off as honest, and sincere, and reformed. Or, a person on the path of reform, as he can, because he's got to think about his life after this next three years.
SCIUTTO: Yes. If you've heard a lot of commentary that he wants to be the John Dean of this, right? Of course, John Dean, who had to go to jail in the end, but threw himself on the mercy of the court in effect.
Jennifer Rogers, I want to talk to you about the other issue that really, the Capitol, is on pins and needles about it. And that is, Robert Mueller finishing his report. CNN's reporting that he is close, might report to the Attorney General, that that report is done as soon as today, it's possible.
What happens after that, because that report can be simply aligned. I'm done with my work, and we may not see the substance of that report from some time, if ever, incomplete form. What is your best guess as to what happens next?
RODGERS: Well, first of all, I'd obviously, as you said, depends on what is in the report, and then it depends on the Attorney General Bill Barr. I hope that the report contains two components, one being the evidence that was collected during this investigation. And two, being the legal conclusions drawn by the Mueller team, whether or not that evidence supports a charge of, for example, obstruction of justice and conspiracy with Russians to interfere with the election.
Then the question becomes for Bill Barr. If the report is detailed about those two things, what does he pass on to the public in Congress, and what does he take out or alter in some manner? If he takes out the facts, the evidence it will have to be only because they're classified, or there are other confidentiality concerns. Hopefully, you know, he will limit it to that.
RODGERS: If he alters the conclusions, that's a different question, and it's problematic, because of the memo that he wrote in advance of becoming the nominee for the Attorney General job, wherein he opined that the president cannot be legally held liable for obstruction of justice for firing the FBI director, because it's his constitutional prerogative under Article ll.
So if Mueller and his team concluded that, in fact, factually the obstruction of justice statute was violated. But, however, they decided not to charge, for example, because of the DOJ guidance and Barr disagrees with that. As a legal matter, will he change that conclusion? And just say, you know, here are the facts that were found. It was determined not to charge, and not let us know that the Mueller team thought it was factually supported.
That's what I'm concerned about, but we're all waiting for, first the report, and then for the AG's report. I think it could take a couple of weeks to sift through all of the potentially classified information, and decide what they're going to do so. So we're just going to have at least a little bit of a weight on our hands.
Margaret, there's an interesting open letter this morning from Adam Schiff, the Democratic congressman, also the Chairman of the House Intelligence community. And it's a letter to Republicans, his Republican colleagues, I doubt they asked for it, but he wrote it anyways and it's about the Mueller Probe in the final report, which we could get any moment.
Let me read you part of it, "While I'm alarmed at what we've already seen him found of the president's conduct and that of his campaign, I continue to reserve judgment about what consequences should flow from our eventual findings. I ask you to do the same." What do you make of that?
HOOVER: Well, under the guise of being a very prudent statement. What it is, is a swipe back at the former intelligence chair of the House of Representatives, Devin Nunes, where he was when Schiff was the ranking member. Of course, the committee was highly divided, deeply partisan, highly politicized.
And Schiff is trying to pretend that now he is going to be the better guy. He's going to conduct himself in a non-partisan way. But what he's doing is still needling them for having behaved badly in his view. And in the view of many people by the way, which I don't know, if that really turns the page.
But what we do need to do, and I will say about Jennifer's previous comments, the guiding principle of the Mueller report for all Americans, for everybody in the press, should be transparency. And that has to be regardless of any national -- Of course, there are going to be national security components that may need to be shielded.
That's fine, but the guiding principle is we look at any elements of the Mueller report, from what the Attorney General decides to do with it, what elements go to Congress, should be sharing as much as possible. And ultimate transparency on the product, and the process for the American people.
SCIUTTO: And Poppy, that's the one thing. When you look at the polls --
SCIUTTO: -- that the Democrats, Independents, and Republicans, by large majorities, agree make it public.
HARLOW: You're right. I mean, I was so struck with that 80 percent of Republicans --
SCIUTTO: Yes. HARLOW: -- also say make this completely public. You're right, it's across the board. Ladies, thank you. Margaret, Jennifer, we appreciate it.
Ahead for us this hour. Straight from the courtroom to the set, a defiant Jussie Smollett met with his "Empire" cast mates. He is standing firm, saying he did not stage this hoax attack.
Also, Senator and presidential candidate, Kamala Harris, has issued a statement on the new developments in the case. What is she saying now?
And the White House is responding to another Cabinet member who finds himself embroiled in a controversy. Why? A decade-old plea deal could be trouble for the current labor secretary, Alex Acosta.
SCIUTTO: Well, really just an incredible string of events here. Just hours after being bailed out of jail on a felony charge, "Empire" actor, Jussie Smollett defending himself to cast and crew mates, who expected that he might confess. Smollett, back on set, acting again yesterday as well.
HARLOW: And, you know, sources say he did apologize to his co-stars and crew, but when they thought he was going to come clean, he reportedly doubled down in his innocence denying he staged the assault.
Let's go to our reporter, Ryan Young, live in Chicago, who's been all over this story. What are you learning, as I understand it, from someone who was in the room with him yesterday?
RYAN YOUNG, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. So this is sort of playing at now, through the tea leaves, it's going to that entertainment side. They said he showed up. People were expecting him to apologize to the cast, that did happen.
The next step people thought, maybe he would come clean, that didn't happen. What we do know now is that 20th Century Fox is actually telling us that they put his shooting schedule on hold for now.
It was amazing they think of that scrum that we saw outside the courthouse, with all those photographers surrounding around him, and then he got into an SUV with the bodyguards that I think the show pays for, they took him to set. I mean, this is really playing out like some true Hollywood movie, that's all being filmed. I mean, there were helicopters following his SUV all the way to that set yesterday.
But let's talk about what we were told. The prosecution, the superintendent says he paid the attackers $ 3,500.
TEXT: PROSECUTORS LAY OUT CASE AGAINST JUSSIE SMOLLETT. THEY SAY SMOLLETT: Paid Osundairo brothers $3,500 to stage attack. Wanted a rope placed around his neck, gasoline poured on him. Wanted brothers to yell "This is MAGA country". Gave $100 in cash to brothers for supplies. Scoped out a location to stage attack.
YOUNG: He actually gave them $100 bill according to prosecution, and they said that they took that money, and they went to a beauty supply store. We even have images of that, and they were actually buying the beauty supply items to do the attack. At one point, you see the two brothers look like they notice the cameras that were inside the store, and kind of look at them.
So all this was playing out kind of just right there in front of the cameras. And then yesterday, we were sitting there after the superintendent gave that impassioned speech about how all this is taking the attention off the real problems of Chicago. And talking about how, as a black man, he was offended about the noose, and how this has wasted a thousand police hours in this investigation.
We moved on from there to watch his family also be surrounded in that scrub, as people just want to know, what he could possibly think. In fact, Smollett's own legal team says they're maintaining his innocence and they, with a defiant statement, they even went forward and said what we witnessed today, was an organized law enforcement spectacle.
YOUNG: So you just got to think what's going to happen next, in this case guys.
SCIUTTO: Yes. I mean, they remember hearing the police superintendent yesterday saying, what he wanted to hear now, was an apology, wanted to hear him fessing up, and wanted to hear him promise to pay back all the funds that were, the police superintendent said, were wasted on this. That clearly hasn't happened. So, what's the next step?
YOUNG: Well, we do know this. In three weeks, there'll be another court case. He got a $100,000 bond. So you had to put $10,000 up. He'll be in court court again. And look, guys, we've covered cases all the time.
The two brothers could be lying partially as well, right? And Jussie could have some parts of truth to this, maybe on his side. But, of course, those messages that they're going to have between the phone calls and the text messages are really going to, probably lay this out.
The other part they put out there is, the two brothers were actually Jussie's drug dealers as well. So some of all this dirty laundry, that's sort of unfolding in front of us, it'll be interesting to see how we can tie the entire timeline together with over a 100 witnesses talked to, 50 cameras looked at, and still more search warrants expected in the coming days.
HARLOW: Ryan Young, don't go anywhere, because this story just keeps evolving, and you're all over it. Thank you. Ahead for us. Yes, she lost the election, but is Hillary Clinton's endorsements still worth a lot? We are just hearing that she has been meeting with some 2020 contenders.
HARLOW: All right. Happening in the next hour, 2020 Democratic presidential hopeful, Senator Kamala Harris, will address a group of African-American female voters. She'll deliver remarks at the opening session of the Power Rising Summit, that's a political action event in New Orleans.
Our National Political Reporter, Maeve Reston, joins me from there this morning. Good morning Maeve. What is her message going to be to the audience today?
MAEVE RESTON; CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: Well, this is Kamala Harris's core constituency. This is a gathering of powerful black women, business owners, activists, who are gathering here to talk about strategy for the future.
On that banner behind me, you can see that it's, you know, the message here is, "Our Time Is Now". So these are the black voters that Kamala Harris wants to consolidate in order to win the Democratic nomination. And Louisiana happens to be a march state, so it will be early on the calendar.
HARLOW: Also, before you go, she was very public in terms of how she felt about the initial reports about the alleged attack against actor Jussie Smollett. She equated it, in her words, to a, "Attempted modern day lynching."
Now that we've heard what the Chicago police have to say, they say the entire thing is a hoax, even though Smollett denies that. How has she changed her reaction? What is she now saying?
RESTON: Well so, she put out a statement across all of her social media platforms last night addressing this issue, because she had come out so strongly. And in that statement she said, "I'm sad, frustrated, and disappointed. When anyone makes false claims to police it not only diverts resources away from serious investigations, but it makes makes it more difficult for other victims of crime to come forward. At the same time, we must speak the truth, hate crimes are on the rise in America."
And she went on to say that, "Part of the tragedy of this situation is that it distracts from that truth, and has been seized by some who would like to dismiss and downplay the very real problems that we must address."
So, you know, this is there's some irony here Poppy, because just last month, Congress passed her anti-lynching legislation. So these were the kinds of issues that she really cares about deeply and personally, those kinds of allegations, and she's just really disappointed at this point, Poppy.
HARLOW: OK. Maeve in New Orleans for us We appreciate the reporting. Thank you.
SCIUTTO: This breaking news just in to CNN, about the ongoing investigation into Jussie Smollett. Learning about his position on the TV show "Empire". Ryan Young joins us now with the latest. What are you learning?
YOUNG: Yes simply, we just got off set now. We got this information about his role on the show "Empire".
It 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 a legal system as this process plays out. We are also aware of the effects of the process on the cast and crew members who work on our show. And to avoid further disruption of the set, we have decided to remove the role of "Jamal" from the final two episodes of the season."
And it has Lee Daniels name on the end of this. This is a, sort of, spending (ph), a grandbacking (ph) here guys. After we just finished our last live shot. And I said, we don't know what the next twist would be. And, it appears, after yesterday, and the circus that's been going on, the "Empire" team has decided to separate themselves from Jussie Smollett.
Let's show that scrum as he was walking to his car yesterday, after being released on that $100,000 bond. And I just talked about the fact that, as he was going to that car, there was those bodyguards there, that we believe were paid for by the "Empire" studio. We know he went right to work, but now this looks like it's all coming to an end right now.