Return to Transcripts main page


R. Kelly Back In Court After Spending Weekend In Jail; Manafort Legal Team To Respond to Scathing Mueller Memo; Lawmakers Prepare To Grill Cohen On Hush Payments & Trump; Kremlin: Trump Admin. Consulted US Ahead Of N. Korea Summit; Trump Departs For Vietnam To Meet With Kim Jong Un; CNN Hosts Town Hall With Sen. Bernie Sanders Tonight At 8PM ET. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired February 25, 2019 - 10:00   ET



SARA SIDNER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We have learned, after looking at court documents, that he owes more than $160,000 in back child support - Poppy.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: All right. Good morning everyone. Top of the hour. I'm Poppy Harlow.

Jim Sciutto is on his way to Hanoi. He will be covering special coverage of the president's trip and summit there with Kim Jong-un that is happening this week.

The president himself, soon to head out the door for that second face- to-face meeting with Kim Jong-un, armed with the same goals that he claimed he'd achieved in the first meeting last June. Chief among them ending the nuclear threat that North Korea poses to the United States.

Well, this morning, the president told the nation's governors, he expects a very tremendous summit, his words, though it's less clear than ever, really what Kim is prepared to concede here, or the president to demand when it comes to denuclearization.

And, of course, that's the key. He may have picked a good week to be out of Washington, though, because tomorrow his former longtime lawyer, self-proclaimed fixer, Michael Cohen, starts three days of congressional testimony. Michael Cohen will testify publicly on Wednesday on matters ranging from his own secrets and lies to the president's business, his campaign, his foundation, and much more.

Let's go straight to the White House this morning. Our Sarah Westwood is there. And Sarah, I know the president is about to leave, and he says that he and Kim Jong-un are eye-to-eye on this, and they see eye- to-eye. It was also striking to heard the president say he's not in a rush for Kim Jong-un to give up North Korea's nuclear capability.

So do we have a clear sense this morning of what the U.S. objective is heading into this summit?

SARAH WESTWOOD, CNN REPORTER: Well, Poppy, the Trump administration has really kept close to the vest, what kind of steps they're looking for North Korea to make out of this summit. Although, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, did tell our colleague, Jake Tapper yesterday that the administration wants to see a clearer, verifiable step toward denuclearization.

That rhetoric might not be sufficient in the way that it was after that first summit in Singapore. And, of course, this will be a very consequential week for the president, both for his foreign policy agenda and domestically.

On Wednesday, the 27th, we're going to see quite a split-screen when his former lawyer, Michael Cohen, is testifying before the House Oversight Committee. At the same time, President Trump is sitting down one-on-one with chairman Kim Jong-un.

Now, the president told a group of Republican governors this morning that he expected to see denuclearization and then potentially economic recovery for North Korea at record-breaking speeds. Take a listen.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Right after this meeting, I'll leave for Vietnam, where I meet with chairman Kim, and we talk about something that frankly, he never spoke to anybody about. But we're speaking, and we're speaking aloud. And I think we can have a very good, a very good summit. I think, we'll have a very tremendous summit. We want the nuclearization.


WESTWOOD: Now, that kind of optimism is not shared across the administration. There are fears that perhaps President Trump could make a concession in order to secure denuclearization, or peace on the Korean Peninsula. There are fears that perhaps North Korea is not even willing to denuclearize at all.

Mixed messages coming out of the administration on whether North Korea poses a nuclear threat, on whether they are willing to ever denuclearize, on how much progress they have made towards that goal.

So there is still a lot of clarity that needs to be made before the president heads off to Hanoi for the summit - Poppy.

HARLOW: Yes, and it's so important for global security. You know, in the wake of the CIA director just saying a few weeks ago, that North Korea is still committed to developing that long-range nuclear missiles. Sara thanks. Let us know if you have any updates.

At any moment also, we could learn Paul Manafort's response to the Special Counsel's scathing sentencing memo. In this memo, that came down late Friday, Mueller referred to the president's former campaign chairman as a bold criminal.

Karis Kanal joins us in Washington with more. So to respond Paul Manafort, but just the litany of things that Mueller's prosecutor said that he purposefully lied about. Even after the plea deal. It's stunning.

KARIS KANAL, CNN REPORTER: It's very Poppy. I mean, the memo, it's not long, but it's pretty succinct in laying out Paul Manafort's crimes. Said that he lied to his tax preparers, there's bookkeepers, the Department of Justice, members of Congress, and members of the executive branch.

They described that he was a -- repeatedly and brazenly committed to these crimes. That for over a decade, he was committing these crimes. And he continued even after he pleaded guilty, and while he was Donald Trump's campaign chairman.

In particular, on the guilty plea, the Special Counsel's office wrote that, "Manafort's conduct after he pleaded guilty is pertinent to sentencing. It reflects a hardened adherence to committing crimes and lack of remorse."

And it's that lack of remorse and the threat of recidivism, if Manafort does not get a long term prison sentence, that prosecutors have highlighted, they said they want a sentence that would send a message to Manafort. One that would reflect the gravity of the crimes that he is committed -- Poppy.


HARLOW: Also, Michael Cohen, huge week. I mean, this has been delayed, what like three, four times. Now, three days of testimony before different congressional committees, and the public one is, there on Wednesday, ahead of the House Oversight Committee. What are you expecting?

KANAL: Well, according to the ground rules that the committee laid out with Cohen, there's a lot that they can ask him about about. About specifically, those campaign finance violations, the hush money payments to women.

You expect Michael Cohen to be questioned about what Donald Trump's role in that was. He has pleaded guilty to those crimes, saying that he did them at the direction of the president. So if Michael Cohen can expand on that in this public setting, we might learn a little bit more information.

He's also allowed to talk about Trump's business dealings, the Trump Foundation, which involves the family members of Donald Trump. So that's all on the table for Cohen to discuss.

Now, he also has a credibility problem.


KANAL: So it's very likely that Republicans, at least, and probably some Democrats, will push him on a lot of these issues. Can he corroborate a lot of the claims that he will be making this week in both public and private testimony? - Poppy.

HARLOW: Right. And we heard Jim Jordan, Republican congressman, who's going to be in there, right? Ranking on oversight, who's going to focus on that a lot, the credibility issue here: Karis, thanks very much.

Let's talk about it with former NSA attorney, Susan Hennessey. Also with us, Garrett Graff, who knows just about everything there is to know about Robert Muller's probe, except for seeing the final report, I should note thank you. Both for for being here.

Garrett to you. In the Manafort memo, that was succinct but scathing, it's obvious that Mueller and his prosecutors are angry. I wonder if you think that it revealed anything new about the broader probe though?

GARRET GRAFF, "WASHINGTON MAGAZINE" EDITOR-IN-CHIEF: It did not, and that is actually, I think, part of what is so interesting about reading through it. Is that Mueller didn't put down any new cards on the table that we didn't already know about, which is inconsistent with the argument that he's actually making in certain places in the sentencing document.

That, sort of, some of these overt acts in furtherance of the conspiracy that he's being sentenced for, Mueller leaves out. You know, he doesn't talk about the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting. He doesn't really get into the relationship with Konstantin Kilimnik, and the polling data.

And the fact that Mueller is leaving some of that stuff out of this memo, really does to me, at least, indicate that there's a chance that Mueller is saving it, because he has something else that he wants to incorporate that information into down the road.

HARLOW: So the question then Susan, if Garrett's right, if that's why, the question becomes, why would he do that? Why would he, why would Muller seem hang on to it, not show their cards in this filing?

SUSAN HENNESSEY, FORMER ATTORNEY, OFFICE OF GENERAL COUNSEL OF THE NATIONAL SECURITY AGENCY: Well, I mean, there's two ways to read into -- look into the absence. One is, they actually don't believe that there's a crime there, right? So these sentencing memos aren't the big sweeping narrative report that we might be expecting Mueller to turn over to the Attorney General.

HARLOW: Right.

HENNESSEY: Or, to Congress. They're very limited. And so, this might reflect that, yes, he has some suspicions related to this activity, but he doesn't necessarily think that they're sort of criminal conduct.

The alternative is that he wants this to be part of that larger narrative that he actually does believe that Manafort is somehow connected to this broader scope of the Russia conspiracy. He doesn't want to tip his hand here. Instead, he wants to save that. That, sort of, full, complete story for the final report. The big question is, whether or not the American public ever sees it. HARLOW: So, let's turn to Garrett. Michael Cohen's testimony on the

Hill. We're going to see it for hours on end on Wednesday, one of three different sessions of testimony before Congress, the other two behind closed doors.

You've got a number of Democrats, including, for example, Representative Jackie Speier, who told "Axios", she thinks that Michael Cohen's testimony could be, 'Like the John Dean of Watergate." And really, that would mean it would hurt the president, right?

So there's that camp, and then there's others who believe it'll just be embarrassing to the president. Is this akin to John Dean, or is this just going to be embarrassing for the president?

GRAFF: Well, it could be both. It could be both incriminating and damning, and also embarrassing. You know, Michael Cohen, is one of the president's closest, longest-serving aides. And I think one of the things, you know, you're already beginning to hear Republicans talk about, well, there's a credibility problem here.

And Susan, has made this point before, that prosecutors are not saying about letting Michael Cohen say the things that he's saying in court without corroborating evidence.

HARLOW: Right.

GRAFF: Remember the prosecutor seized something like 292,000 documents from Michael Cohen when they raided his office last April. And you have to assume that Michael Cohen has been drawing upon those documents, those archived materials, telephone calls, recordings, emails, etc, to make the case that he's been making in federal court about the president's actions.

And from what we know about the way that Michael Cohen has been preparing for this testimony this week, I think that you're going to see Michael Cohen, saying you know, don't just take my word for it.


GRAFF: Here are the documents --

HARLOW: You're right.

GRAFF: -- here's the evidence that I can show.

HARLOW: And to that point. I mean, Susan, Mueller's team said in court, you know, a month or so ago, that Cohen has been credible and consistent with the other evidence that they had obtained.

Finally, do you, Susan, I know there's a limit to what he can testify about, meaning the ongoing Russia investigation, he can't testify about in public. But after the Mueller report is submitted, after Michael Cohen goes to jail on May 6, if he were to be brought back to testify again, once that report is submitted, could he then talk freely about the Russia probe?

HENNESSEY: All right, referring to Cohen, or referring to Mueller himself?

HARLOW: To Cohen, to Cohen.

HENNESSEY: Right? So it is, it is possible. One of the interesting thing is about that list of topics that Representative Elijah Cummings released was, it's actually a list that says that these are the issues maybe DOJ is done with. But keep in mind the Russia probe is not the only potential inquiry here.

We know that Cohen is reportedly continuing to offer cooperation with the Southern District of New York into potential investigations into the Trump Foundation. Now, Cohen can still get credit for cooperating, in the form of a reduced sentence, within a year of his sentencing. So anything that continues to touch on that form of the investigation.

That said, I do think that the legislators, our legislators are going to be approaching Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, and particularly that Wednesday public hearing, as if it is going to be their one real public shot to get Michael Cohen on the record about these really serious issues.

HARLOW: Right. It'll be fascinating and consequential. Garrett thanks. Susan, nice to have you both.

High stakes for the president as he prepares to try to work out a denuclearization deal with North Korea. Now Russia is claiming the U.S. went to it for advice before this summit. If that's the case, the big question is, why?

Also, why the White House is assembling its own team to counter facts about climate change. We'll dig into that.

And diversity wins big in an historic night at the Oscars. But the president is firing back at one of these stars, Spike Lee, this morning.




HARLOW: All right. This morning, the Russian Foreign Minister says the Trump administration touched base with Moscow about the president's summit this week with North Korea's leader Kim Jong-un.

The president, of course, famously tweeted last June, "There's no longer a nuclear threat from North Korea." Of course, that's not the case and the Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, says as much now. Here he was, just yesterday, on State of the Union.


JAKE TAPPER, CNN'S CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Do you think North Korea remains a nuclear threat?


TAPPER: But the president said he doesn't.

POMPEO: It's not what he said. I mean, I know personally --

TAPPER: He tweeted there was no longer a nuclear threat from North Korea, right?

POMPEO: What he said is that -- what he said was that the efforts that had been made in Singapore, this commitment that Chairman Kim made, have substantially taken down the risk to the American people. It's the mission of Secretary of State and the President of the United States to keep American people secure. We're aiming to achieve that.


HARLOW: With me now, is my colleague, Fareed Zakaria, host, of course, of CNN's "Fareed Zakaria GPS". Good morning. Good to have you here, my friend. Does it put the U.S. in a position of strength, or a position of weakness to be going into this summit with a very unclear mission? At least to the public.

Pompeyo says, they're still in a nuclear threat. The president has said, they're not. And now, word from Russia, that Russia was consulted.

FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN HOST, FAREED ZAKARIA, GPS: Well, I think, actually, this is all noise in a sense.


ZAKARIA: Russia should be consulted. Frankly, we used to have what we called five-party talks with the North Koreans, which included Russia. Russia is -- I mean, you want as much pressure to bear on North Korea. And Russia is actually, in the past, been quite helpful.

The crucial issue, however, is that the North Korean threat has not gone away. No matter what anyone says, they have somewhere between 60 and 100 nuclear missiles. They have stopped testing, which is a good thing, but the threat remains, and it's going to be all negotiated in the details.

I mean, this is this is a case where the the gentlemen Trump has appointed as Chief Negotiator, Steve Egan, is going to be negotiating with the former head of North Korean intelligence. And it's all in the details there.

At this point, we have no indication that the North Koreans have made any concessions. Trump has made a few concessions. He met with the North Korean leader. Those that resulted in the no testing policy. So there's been a few movements. But, you know, it's all in the details, It's all in the negotiation.

HARLOW: So Gina Haspel, the head of the CIA, said just a few weeks ago, "The regime is committed to developing a long-range nuclear missile. That was a few weeks ago. And yet, the president, yesterday, says as long as they're not testing, as long as there's no testing, we are happy.

ZAKARIA: Well, it's better than them testing, but it does not remove the threat. The United States, for example, for long periods of time, has not tested nuclear missiles.

HARLOW: Right.

ZAKARIA: Nobody would say that the American nuclear arsenal is not potent, and not powerful, and threatening to other people then, because of that. You know, testing is one component of it, but they maintain an arsenal in great readiness.

We just discovered there's a new report that came out that just 130 miles from the demilitarized zone, they have this vast nuclear complex --

HARLOW: Right.

ZAKARIA: -- we didn't know about. So they're a real nuclear power.

HARLOW: And Stanford, the assessment out of Stanford, that they had, you know, amassed over the last year, enough nuclear grade fuel for seven more nuclear weapons.

ZAKARIA: Right. Exactly.


HARLOW: So it just -- it seems to me, and I wonder if you see it this way, that this scale is shifting a bit in terms of what success is for the summit, right? Because Pompeo said last June, right after the first summit, only complete denuclearization, will result in sanctions relief.

But then, just yesterday, in the interview with Jake, you know, he indicated there are some sanctions relief that can come from more moderate steps from the North Korean regime.

ZAKARIA: Look, I think that the honest truth is, if a you know, if President Obama had made these kind of statements, the Republicans would be would be crying murder, treason, sellout.

HARLOW: Right.

ZAKARIA: But it is actually the right place to go, which is to say our rhetorical position should be completely unyielding. But if they do make some concessions, there should be some kind of scale where we can withdraw some of the sanctions, but not all the.

You know, the crucial issue is, what they want is, the removal of the US protection to South Korea.

HARLOW: Right.

ZAKARIA: I can't do that.

HARLOW: Right.

ZAKARIA: The recognition of the regime, and the formal ending of the Korean War, those are the big concessions, which should await really complete, total verifiable denuclearization. But between that, and this, I mean is it possible to provide some trade support, and things like that? Sure.

HARLOW: Turning to Venezuela and the crisis there, which the UN Commissioner for Human Rights is assessing. Four people killed over the weekend, 300 injured. It's hard to get an exact number. Maduro's army setting ablaze two trucks filled with aid in front of the people who need the aid the most.

Marco Rubio is, as you know, over the weekend, wrote that that really changes things. Does that opens the door, in his word, to various multilateral actions, not on the table 24 hours ago. Is he right? And what would those multilateral actions look like? And with whom?

ZAKARIA: Something very important is shifting in Venezuela. You're absolutely right to highlight what happened over the weekend and Rubio's response. On my program, on Sunday, I had Carlos Vecchio, who's the newly installed, itself declared, President Guido's envoy to Washington.

HARLOW: Right.

ZAKARIA: And I asked him, do you want the U.S. military intervention to be on the table, or off the table? And he said, well, if it were in the context of what is called the responsibility to protect. This is a U.N. idea of humanitarian intervention.

Essentially, he said, then it would be OK. Rubio is saying the same thing. That if there were a multilateral intervention for humanitarian purposes, to stop the regime from doing what it's doing. What that tells me is, they are looking for some possibility of a humanitarian intervention, really the threat of humanitarian intervention, to get Maduro's government to stop killing people.

HARLOW: But the concern that was raised by the former US ambassador to Mexico, Roberta Jacobson, who stepped down last year, is whether or not humanitarian aid is being politicized. Whether it is being used as a cover for a regime change here, or military intervention here. Is that a legitimate concern?

ZAKARIA: No, because what is going on in Venezuela is a humanitarian nightmare. I mean, look, the simplest way to look at it is, something like 3 million Venezuelans have fled their country.


ZAKARIA: That's 10 percent of the population. That's 35 million Americans. Something has to be done to save that country from a humanitarian point of view.

HARLOW: Thank you very much Fareed. Good to have you. Great show yesterday. ZAKARIA: Thank you.

HARLOW: See you very soon.

All right. So back to US politics. The more Democrats to jump in the race, is that better for president Trump? Next, the dangers revealed by some new poll numbers.




HARLOW: All right. Before Senator Bernie Sanders starts his first official 2020 campaign trip, taking him through New York, Alabama and Illinois, he's going to take questions straight from you, the voter tonight, right here on CNN.

Based on his approach, so far, and an email he sent over the weekend, his team knows this will be very different from the campaign he ran in 2016.

Harry Enten is with us, CNN senior political writer and analyst, and our crystal Chris Cillizza, CNN politics reporter and editor-at-large. Good morning gentlemen.

And Cillizza to you first.


HARLOW: You have a great piece. It's like a week old now, since you've turn out so many, you've had about a dozen since. But the piece struck me so much, because it was like these five danger signs --


HARLOW: -- for Bernie Sanders. This time around, he faces a lot of roadblocks. Namely, what's the most important one?

CILLIZZA: Well, so, I think that what you have to realize, and Harry and I have talked about this online and offline a lot is, this 2016, is not the 2020 race, right? 2016, he comes out of nowhere. Hillary Clinton ignores him for the vast majority of the race. He's not polling anywhere, where you would think she would have to pay attention.

Then suddenly he's relevant. Suddenly, he's the head of a movement, OK. This time around, he's either in first, second, or third in virtually any poll you take, National, New Hampshire, Iowa. He is, I don't want to say the front-runner, because that's probably Joe Biden, but he is among the frontrunners.

It's a very different kind of race. There's more scrutiny. There's more expectations. Those are things he's going to have to deal with. Now, look, you'd probably rather be among the frontrunners than a longshot at this point.


CILLIZZA: But it's just not the same race. So I think people were expecting him - well, if he did so well in 2016 -- he'll be been better in 2020. I'm not sure that calculus holds.

HARLOW: Yes. Sometimes it's easier to be the underdog in the early days, right?


HARLOW: And in terms of the "Oppo" (ph) research that he'll face, much more of it now, within his own party, as you know.

Harry do you -- he is not really --