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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Will House Overturn Trump's National Emergency Declaration?; Trump and Kim Set to Meet; Michael Cohen Preparing to Testify Publicly Before Congress. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired February 26, 2019 - 16:00   ET

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


[16:00:03]

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: He's on Capitol Hill, and expected to bring with him some skeletons from President Trump's closet.

THE LEAD starts right now.

Donald Trump's former secret-keeper testifying on Capitol Hill before he heads to prison. And he's expected to say the president has been complicit in his crimes.

President Trump, meanwhile, just hours away from his second summit with North Korea's murderous dictator, as we get new details about how the president had hoped flattery would get him everywhere the last time around.

Plus, vicious hate mail directly to people who shows schoolkids the beauty of butterflies -- the latest innocent victims of the political battle over the border wall.

Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We begin with the politics lead.

At this hour, we're following three important events happening at the same time on opposite sides of the globe. President Trump arriving today in Hanoi, Vietnam, for his second summit with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, just as his former fixer Michael Cohen arrived on Capitol Hill for the first of three straight days of congressional testimony.

Also on Capitol Hill, the Democratic-controlled House will vote at any moment on legislation to block President Trump's emergency declaration involving his signature campaign issue of a border wall.

We have our team of correspondents covering it all from the House to the Senate to Hanoi.

Let's start in the Senate.

Right now, Michael Cohen is behind closed doors with the Senate Intelligence Committee, where according to a source nothing has been off-limits. Tomorrow, before the House Oversight Committee, Cohen will answer publicly under oath everything he knows about President Trump after more than a decade working for him.

A source telling CNN the Cohen will discuss tomorrow the president's role in some of the crimes Cohen pleaded guilty to, crimes for which Cohen is going to prison in May. The Democratic chairman of that committee, Elijah Cummings, says it could be a -- quote -- "turning point" in our country's history.

And there's potentially one viewer paying very close attention, President Trump.

As CNN Pamela Brown now reports, White House officials say, despite the 12-hour time zone difference, they expect the president to stay up overnight in Vietnam to watch the hearing.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): At almost exactly the same time, just before 9:00 a.m. Eastern, President Trump landed in Vietnam, and his former fixer Michael Cohen arrived on Capitol Hill for the first three days of testimony.

Cohen meeting all day behind closed doors with the Senate Intelligence Committee. Republican Senator Roy Blunt telling CNN, "He did spend quite a bit of time explaining what he had told us before that wasn't truthful."

QUESTION: Mr. Chairman, what's the most important thing you can learn today?

SEN. RICHARD BURR (R), NORTH CAROLINA: The truth.

QUESTION: Are you sure you can trust Mr. Cohen?

BURR: He sure has a track record of doing questionable, questionable doings.

BROWN: Tomorrow, the most anticipated testimony is planned, when Cohen speaks publicly for the first time at a House Oversight Committee hearing. He's expected to divulge into behind-the-scenes details about Donald Trump during his more than 10 years working for him, discussing publicly Trump's role in some of the crimes Cohen pleaded guilty to last year, including the payments to two women who alleged having an affair with Trump weeks before the 2016 election, payments Cohen claims Trump directed him to make.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS: He was trying to hide what you were doing, correct?

MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER ATTORNEY/FIXER FOR DONALD TRUMP: Correct.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And he knew it was wrong?

COHEN: Of course.

BROWN: Cohen may also provide documents to back up his claims, a source tells CNN. House Oversight Chairman Elijah Cummings says the committee is clear to talk to Cohen about 10 different areas relating to Trump after working out those topics with special counsel Robert Mueller's office and federal investigators in New York, Cummings adding: "The worst thing we can do is interfere with any of the investigations."

For their part, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders releasing a scathing statement today, saying -- quote -- "It's laughable that anyone would take a convicted liar like Cohen at his word, and pathetic to see him given yet another opportunity to spread his lies."

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Very simply, Michael Cohen is lying, and he's trying to get a reduced sentence for things that have nothing to do with me.

BROWN: But despite the White House's dismissal of Cohen, officials tell CNN the White House will be watching his public testimony closely and taking notes to brief the president, though the expectation is that Trump will stay up overnight watching before his highly anticipated one-on-one meeting with the North Korean dictator.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN: And multiple sources say that Michael Cohen apologized to the Senate Intelligence Committee today during the classified hearing for the lies that he had told them previously.

Now, as for President Trump, those in his inner circle I have been speaking with today say the fear of the unknown is the biggest concern ahead of the public testimony from Cohen tomorrow. They say they'd be surprised if he unveiled something substantive that hasn't already been out there.

But then there's this timing concern Jake, because in between Trump's dinner with Kim Jong-un and the big one-on-one meeting with him the following day will be the Cohen hearing overnight.

[16:05:05]

And so aides can only hope that the president isn't distracted by the Cohen cloud during these important meetings about nuclear weapons -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Pamela Brown at the Senate for us, thank you so much.

Let's talk about this with my experts.

First of all, David Urban, as an occasional adviser to President Trump, would you tell him -- well, what would you tell him about watching the hearing vs. just being where he is?

DAVID URBAN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Listen, I think the hearing, there isn't going to be anything new, right?

You're going to hear Michael Cohen kind of -- it depends. It's interesting. It's going to be which Michael Cohen shows up. The Michael Cohen who for years praised Donald Trump as being the paragon of honesty and integrity and virtue.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: That's the one that is not going to show up.

URBAN: So, the Michael Cohen who lied to Congress before? Is that the Cohen that is showing up?

I mean, which Michael Cohen are you going to get at this hearing, right? So if I was the president, I would tuck myself in, have a little warm milk and go to bed, because it is just a big sideshow.

TAPPER: So, Sarah Sanders -- I want to get your response to Sarah Sanders. You heard some of it in the piece.

But here is the full statement: "Disgraced felon Michael Cohen is going to prison for lying to Congress and making other false statements. Sadly, he will go before Congress this week, and we can expect more of the same. It's laughable that anyone would take a convicted liar like Cohen at his word, and pathetic to see him given yet another opportunity to spread his lies."

KAREN FINNEY, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes.

So take out convicted, and you could be talking about the president, given that he is someone who is known to lie. And sort of interesting to hear -- it's like, which Michael Cohen is going to show up? Which Donald Trump is going to show up on Twitter? Probably not the one that was praising Michael Cohen before he seemed to flip, right?

I think watching the live Twitter feed of the president will be more interesting, actually, than watching what Michael Cohen has to say, because we probably will hear a lot of what has been reported. But, again, remember that a lot of what we will hear tomorrow most likely has also been cooperated in other places.

TAPPER: Right.

So, Mary Katharine, one of the things that's interesting -- and it's true he has been convicted of lying to Congress, and he's going to jail in part because of that. But one of the reasons he was lying, at least according to the court, is -- this is Michael Cohen.

"I made these misstatements to be consistent with individual 1's political messaging, and out of loyalty to Individual 1." Individual 1, we know, to be President Trump.

So, I mean, he is saying, yes, I lied, but I lied to go along with what President Trump was saying or candidate Trump.

MARY KATHARINE HAM, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: At President Trump's behest. I'm not sure it's morally better. It's certainly not legally better, as we know. And I sound like a broken record, but it's partly because everyone is a known liar. But it's not that everything he says is going to be untrue. It's that you have to weigh his motivations and the fact that he has shown to be a liar before, just like with the president when he's speaking.

And in this case, his motivations are, A, I think, to make this as splashy as possible and to -- even if there's not a bunch of new information, to make the gossipy parts of it pretty scintillating.

And, two, but to protect himself and his plea deal, which may be a better motivation for not lying than was his loyalty to President Trump, which we have seen to be somewhat fleeting

TAPPER: Do you think -- I hate the -- there's so many memes that are that are tired like Republicans pounce, Democrats overreach.

But let me just say, is there not some risk if this is too much of a spectacle that this actually ends up not hurting the president, but actually maybe even engendering some sympathy for him?

JENNICE FUENTES, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Perhaps, but this is always a spectacle.

I don't know if it's really about which Michael Cohen is going to show up, but why. He has nothing more to lose. What does he stand to gain? I say that unless he shows up with hard evidence -- let's say the taxes, let's say a note from the president directed him to do something -- he needs hard evidence.

Otherwise, I really think it's maybe a little bit of a waste of time. We already know the facts. We already know the gossip. We know the president's a reprehensible human being who's not fit to be in Oval Office.

(CROSSTALK)

URBAN: Look, I was watching the network earlier.

And Maggie was on, Maggie Haberman was on, saying basically the same thing. Like, if you're a Democrat and you're putting all your hopes on this or you're hoping this is going to be some big thing, you better walk it back a bit, because I don't think there's going to be much new here.

Listen, if you think that the SDNY or Mueller team hasn't wringed every bit of information out of this guy already....

FUENTES: But, David, do you know why he may be doing it? Because we all have the same things, right? We have our family, we have our parents, we have our spouses' parents, and our children.

And I think he may be trying to save face with his own, his own audience, his own family.

FINNEY: But I think that's part of why watching how the president reacts to it, which, by the way, I would not want him doing right before going to have nuclear talks. Can we just put on the table?

That's a little frightening just right there. I would like him to actually get a good night's sleep before he's talking about fissile material.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: Sure. We all wish him the best and all that.

FINNEY: Just since all of our lives really do depend on it.

But I do think watching how he reacts, because he is so undisciplined -- and there have been times where it is his reaction that actually creates the news.

[16:10:01]

I mean, it's very likely that Cohen isn't going to say, as we have all said, anything new that we haven't heard. Most likely, things that he says, again, will have to be corroborated by other places. It will be the president's reaction or overreaction that could be most interesting.

TAPPER: And, Mary Katharine, take a listen to Andrew McCabe, the former acting director of the FBI, talking about what Michael Cohen's worth might actually be regarding the Russia investigation.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANDREW MCCABE, FORMER ACTING FBI DIRECTOR: I think Mr. Cohen is in -- has been in a position to have heard conversations and seen actions taken and maybe be able to provide that sort of insider's view on what the intent of the folks at the center of this investigation truly was.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: What do you think?

HAM: I mean, Andrew McCabe, as I have noted before, another person whose motivations and history we must take into account in all of this.

But, look, I think the greater legal threat, to me, to the president is probably the Cohen Southern District of New York investigations, not the Mueller one. The Mueller one is sexy because we don't know that much about it and he may have information that we don't have.

But I'm not sure that's the bigger threat to the president.

URBAN: Yes, Allen Weissmann (sic) getting immunity right, your CFO.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: Of the Trump Organization.

(CROSSTALK) URBAN: Right. And you get in there.

And as anybody said, what's -- show me the man, I will tell you the crime. I may be botching that whole saying. You get the Department of Justice and some company unlimited resources, unlimited time, they're going to turn over enough rocks, you're going to find something.

TAPPER: Yes, and no discrete assignment.

Republican Senator Susan Collins talked about the closed-door hearing today. She said it's been an extensive grilling. And when asked if there was anything that surprised her, she said -- quote -- "Yes. He's a very different guy."

What do you read into that?

FUENTES: Well, I'm not sure.

But I tell you what I think is happening the Congress. I think Congress right now is trying to catch up with the criminal investigation, but asking him all the questions in very fine -- why did you lie? How much did you lie? Why do you have to take it back?

But, again, I think it's a catchup game. I think there's nothing that Mueller and his team don't already know.

TAPPER: And our coverage will start tomorrow morning at 9:00 a.m. Wolf and I will be here.

Coming up, will "Have you lost weight?" be the first words uttered by President Trump at his summit with Kim Jong-un? New details of the president's strategy to flatter and flatter and flatter the dictator into giving up his nuclear dreams the last time they met.

Plus, Ivanka Trump says most Americans don't want a guaranteed minimum wage because they don't want to be given something. We will just let that one sit right there.

We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:16:39] TAPPER: The world lead and who's problem President Trump will likely sidestep in his second summit with North Korea's Kim Jong- un? In the lead-up to talks in Hanoi, Vietnam, human rights groups at his amnesty international are pushing to Trump administration to call out the dictator for North Korea's human rights abuses. The harsh detentions and labor camps, the brutal torture of American Otto Warmbier who returned to the United States and died days later.

That has not been the focused of the president's public discussions of his budding relationship, what he has referred to as falling in love with the dictator who has proven to be ruthless, defiant and homicidal.

CNN's Kaitlan Collins is traveling with President Trump and has more from Hanoi.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Trump arriving in Vietnam where Hanoi streets are lined with American and North Korean flags ahead of his second summit with Kim Jong-on. He's predicting another tremendous sit-down with the North Korean dictator, who arrived after making the 2,500-mile trip by armored train, later forcing out reporters who were slated to broadcast from his hotel and spending part of the day meeting with North Korean officials at the country's embassy.

Trump's big moment on the world stage accompanied by a big question, will North Korea take any steps toward denuclearization? That's something Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told Jake Tapper on "STATE OF THE UNION" that the president wants.

MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE: Real step, a demonstrable verifiable step is something that I know President Trump is very focused on achieving.

COLLINS: Though Trump has admitted he's happy with a halt in missile testing.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm not in a rush. I don't want to rush anybody. I just don't want testing. As long as there's no testing, we're happy.

COLLINS: White House officials tell CNN there's still no agreement between the two sides on what denuclearization even looks like. That's something they hope to hammer out over the next two days, starting with the president's 20-minute one-on-one with Kim Wednesday night, followed by a 90-minute social dinner at a luxury hotel before the summit officially kicks off Thursday.

White House aides are tempering expectations and Democrats are pointing to a lack of progress.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MINORITY LEADER: No one wants another summit that's more about optics and photo ops than progress.

COLLINS: But the president's supporters say the talks are a sign of success from what once was a tense relationship.

TRUMP: Rocket man is on a suicide mission for himself and for his regime.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COLLINS: Now, Jake, in between those North Korea and those American flags that are lining the streets here are the Vietnamese flags. And there's a reason that the summit is being held here, this is a country that once is at war with the U.S. and now is on friendly terms, and U.S. officials are hoping that can send a message to the North Koreans that this could potentially serve as a model for their future relationship -- Jake. TAPPER: All right. Kaitlan Collins traveling with the president in Hanoi, thank you so much.

We're learning more about how President Trump built this what he calls special bond with Kim Jong-un from a source who knows about their first talks in Singapore.

CNN's Kylie Atwood is also in Hanoi and brings us the exclusive reporting.

Kylie, President Trump apparently used a lot of flattery to help establish this relationship?

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: That's right. Trump also tried to build up a sense of assurance and comfort. We've learned that Kim Jong-un particularly pointed to a comment that President Trump made before the Singapore summit, when he was asked how he would determine his personal chemistry with the North Korean leader. Let's listen to that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I think within the first minute I'll know. Just my touch, my feel, that's why -- that's what I do.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ATWOOD: Trump was asked about that comment by Kim Jong-un and Trump said that, yes, he actually is able to determine how he feels about someone within seconds. Kim Jong-un then asked President Trump the key question, does he trust him? Trump told him that he does. If they are going to reach an agreement, he has to.

Trump also described Kim Jong-un as someone who was sort of sneaky but not too sneaky. Then, Kim Jong-un turned to National Security Advisor John Bolton who was in the room and asked him if he also trusts him. Bolton said that he does and he said that if President Trump trusts him, then he trusts him. This is someone who has been very skeptical of these negotiations and Kim Jong-un knew to ask him what he thought about the future.

TAPPER: All right. Kylie Atwood in Hanoi, thank you so much.

Phil Mudd joins me now. He was a CIA counterterrorism official.

Phil, what do you make of the flattery approach from President Trump here? I mean, if that works, why not use it I guess?

PHIL MUDD, FORMER CIA COUNTERTERRORISM OFFICIAL: I agree with you. I mean, look, we're in a difficult place a couple years ago, even last year with the North Koreans. If you think that that means that limits the prospect they're going to pop a missile off toward Guam, I'd say it's OK.

But at the end of the day, this is not a love story. This is a business deal. So, in a business deal, both sides got to get something.

I want to know one thing, when are the North Koreans going to say something that we didn't know earlier? When are they going to start to reveal something about their program? Because that'll start to tell me they're ready to make a deal.

And then the piece that the Americans don't want to talk about: when are we going to give something? How far along the line? Do they have to tell us, for example, that they have a nuclear facility we never knew about and give us access to it for us to say, we'll give you something on sanctions? We got a long way to go here. This is not a love story, it's a business deal.

TAPPER: And then, of course, they're saying that you trust somebody as President Trump did in this conversation that Kylie Atwood just reported, and John Bolton did as well -- if he trusts you, then I trust you. And then there's actually having that trust proven, you have experienced with this. Does this bring you back any memories?

MUDD: It brings me back memories of Iraq. Look, John Bolton has to say what he has to say in the president. We don't trust him and, by the way, the administration has told us, the American people, that we don't trust the North Korea. Why would you verify and insist on verification if you trust somebody?

We trust you but we got to go in and ensure that you do what you said you're going to do -- this reminds me of for years, we had documents -- information from the Iraqis about how they were going to comply with U.N. sanctions. The issue wasn't whether we had access to facilities, it wasn't whether they did we destroyed missiles, which is what we want to see in North Korea. The issue was really fundamental and it was, did we ever trust Saddam? The answer is we never did.

I'm not -- I haven't seen anything in the past months and year after the last meeting that indicates to me we should trust Kim Jong-on. Why? He hasn't done anything.

TAPPER: And then very quickly, Amnesty International and some other groups are pointing out that President Trump is not really talking much about the tremendous human rights abuses that Kim Jong-un is inflicting upon his people, labor camps. I mean, murder, rape, all these things.

Is that a mistake of President Trump not to bring that up or do you think that that's the only way to get this deal done?

MUDD: I don't think it's a mistake. The same problem we've got with Iranians. You want to change an entire country without a military invasions. You want to change their economy, their human rights record, their record on missiles, their record on nukes.

I'd say go in, we've had our adversarial relationship with decades. If you want to have the whole deal, you're not going to get it done focus on one issue, Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Phil Mudd, thank you so much. MUDD: Thank you.

TAPPER: President Trump now just one senator away from Congress trying to kill his border wall emergency as the House gets ready to vote any moment. Could another Republican senator flip?

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:28:53] TAPPER: Our national lead now. The White House threatening to veto legislation that would kill the president's emergency declaration on the border wall. This as only one more Republican senator needs to say he or she opposes the president on this issue to force legislation to his desk.

As of now, Republican Senators Susan Collins, Thom Tillis and Lisa Murkowski have joined the Democrats to oppose the president's moves. Some conservative senators have said they are worried the president's action might set bad precedent but they will not commit to voting against it.

This as CNN's Sunlen Serfaty reports, the House is expected to pass the bill in the next hour. And since the bill was called a privileged resolution, the Republican-controlled Senate will have to vote on it.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

REP. HAKEEM JEFFERIES (D), NEW YORK: The president's declaration is a phony, fraudulent and fake national emergency.

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The battle over President Trump's national emergency declaration erupting on Capitol Hill today.

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA), MINORITY LEADER: There is a national emergency at the southern border. The president has an authority to do it.

SERFATY: With Congress readying to potentially serve President Trump a huge rebuke in the hopes of blocking the president's move to get his border wall.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: This isn't about the border. This is about the Constitution.

[16:30:00]