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Trump Arrives in Hanoi for Second Summit with Kim Jong-un; Michael Cohen on Capitol Hill for Closed-Door Testimony; CNN Goes Behind Enemy Lines for Rare Access to the Taliban. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired February 26, 2019 - 09:00   ET

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


[09:00:11] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Good morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow. Jim Sciutto is on assignment in Vietnam where President Trump has just arrived for a two-day summit in North Korean -- in Vietnam, rather, with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

It's an extraordinary sequel to a groundbreaking meeting less than a year ago that the president claimed had ended the nuclear threat. This time it's not even clear that the two sides agree on what denuclearization would look like.

And it's not the only important arrival that we're watching this hour. Take a look at this. Michael Cohen is due on Capitol Hill for the start of three days of testimony before three separate congressional committees. Today's hearing is private. Tomorrow's is not.

Tomorrow the president's former lawyer, surrogate and self-proclaimed fixer appears in public before the House Oversight Committee. And a source tells CNN he'll discuss not only his own crimes but the president's role that he alleges in them.

Two very different potentially world changing events half a world apart, and that is where we begin this morning. Joining me from Hanoi, our White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins.

Good morning to you, Kaitlan. Good evening to you there in Hanoi. What I think is really interesting about this time around is that the lead negotiators on both sides, the U.S. and North Korea, are new to this. Right? They were not there for the first summit. So the question becomes, will their approach be different this time?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. It's going to look a lot different when these two sides meet again, Poppy, after that summit in Singapore. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the National Security adviser John Bolton will both still be there. But John Kelly, the chief of staff, has been replaced by Mick Mulvaney.

And there is this new U.S. special envoy to North Korea. That's Steve Biegun, someone who's now joined the administration. He's really been the one meeting going back and forth, meeting with several of these North Korean officials including his new counterpart, a new face that will also be in the room. And that's raising some questions of what this is going to look like when they all are in the room together and what that conversation is going to be like. There is going to be a dinner this time. That's a little bit

different than what happened in Singapore. But in the meeting, in that dinner it's only going to be a few people in the room, Poppy. And the people from the U.S. side will be of course President Trump, Pompeo, Bolton, and a translator in the room. That new U.S. representative will not be in there and neither will John Bolton.

HARLOW: Right. And we know that John Bolton and Steve Biegun as you note have very different views on how tough the U.S. should be, right, in these negotiations so that's going to be interesting that they're not going to be in the room together.

Thank you very much, Kaitlan. Stand by. Let's go the MJ Lee now, my colleague, on Capitol Hill.

A few minutes ago, a few seconds ago, MJ, we just saw Michael Cohen arrive. This testimony has been long awaited. I mean, several times it's been delayed and delayed and delayed. And today it all begins. Walk us through the reporting that you have.

MJ LEE, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER: Well, that's right, Poppy. After several delays we are finally going to see Michael Cohen testifying before Congress this week. This is going to be three sessions before three committees over the course of three days. And it all begins today. Michael Cohen is going to testify in a private setting before the Senate Intelligence Committee. But really all eyes are on tomorrow.

Tomorrow is the big event where Michael Cohen will testify publicly for the first time before the House Oversight Committee. Now according to a source familiar with Michael Cohen's preparations for this week, we are told that we can expect him to publicly for the first time talk about the ways in which Donald Trump may have been involved, the role that he may have had in the crimes that Michael Cohen has already pleaded guilty to.

And secondly, we are also told that we can expect him to give us a behind-the-scenes sense of President Trump's conduct in business during the time when he was a presidential candidate. So these are all topics, Poppy, that will -- could and can come up in these private and public sessions that Michael Cohen is going to participate in in the course of this week.

And just to remind everyone of the crimes that he already has pleaded guilty to, remember it was back in November that Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to lying to Congress. This was, of course, about the Moscow project and any deliberations that he may have had with President Trump about that project. And also a couple months before that, earlier in the summer, he of course pleaded guilty to eight criminal counts, some of which were related to campaign finance violations.

Those of course had to do with the infamous hush payments relating to the women who alleged that they had affairs with Donald Trump. Now given all of that and given all of these topics I think it's also important to take stock of the enormous sort of transformation that we have seen Michael Cohen go through over the last year or two going from Donald Trump's fixer and lawyer, somebody who worked for him for many, many years and really did anything and everything, as he said, that Donald Trump wanted him to do.

And now coming before Congress and saying he is willing to tell the truth and talk about everything from his personal life to his business life to his conduct as a presidential candidate.

[09:05:07] Now weighing on Michael Cohen over all of this as he does it this week is the three-year prison sentence that is coming up for him. He is set to now report to prison in May -- Poppy.

HARLOW: OK. MJ Lee, thank you very much.

So for everyone with us this morning, you're looking at Air Force One. It has just landed in Hanoi. This is the president arriving for a very consequential second summit with Kim Jong-un. This will take place in Hanoi. That is where my colleague Jim Sciutto is of course right now. Dana Bash is with me for this. Kaitlan Collins is on the ground there.

Kaitlan, let's talk a little bit more about what we can expect between the two and the changing U.S. demands here in terms of what the U.S. expects to get from North Korea and what the U.S. wants to get from North Korea. Is it still irreversible, verifiable denuclearization?

COLLINS: Well, that's the question. And that is something we have seen that White House officials have stopped using. That was a phrase that Mike Pompeo, the secretary of State, came up with during the summit in Singapore. But we have not seen them rely on that phrase. As they have commonly referred to it in the White House as CVID, as much in recent months as they've continued these negotiations with Pyongyang.

A big question here is also the difference in expectations from President Trump and his aides. Now aides in recent weeks have been trying to tamp down the president's expectations that this is going to be this huge significant summit that we saw in Singapore which was of course the first time that a North Korean leader has sat down with a sitting U.S. president. Aides have tried to tell the president that this isn't going to get as much attention as that first summit did. And they've also tried to hammer out what exactly the president is going to walk away with.

Now, Poppy, earlier we were just speaking, we were talking about the difference in administration officials and what they've expected and also how there's been a bit of a contrast between what the National Security adviser John Bolton and that new special envoy to North Korea Steve Biegun has also said that he wants.

Now John Bolton wants to take a hardline stance against North Korea. He doesn't want any easing of pressure on them until they have made some steps to show that they are committed to denuclearizing. But Steve Biegun in a speech recently at Stanford raised some questions among those among hardliners in the administration because he said that if North Korea did take steps that looked like they were closer to denuclearizing like letting inspectors come in and see those enrichment facilities that they were going to expect corresponding measures to happen from the U.S. at the same time.

Now, Poppy, it's that word "corresponding" that raised some questions and some eyebrows inside the administration because it sounds like those steps would be taken at the same time instead of in response to something North Korea did. Now of course this is all going to come down to the two principles that are in the room. President Trump and Kim Jong-un. And even some aides in the White House are concerned the president wants to make a deal so badly and wants to be able to walk away with it saying here's what I got, one, two, and three, that they're worried that the president could make some concessions when he's meeting with Kim Jong-un one-on-one.

HARLOW: Thank you very much, Kaitlan. Stand by.

Joining us now, Rear Admiral John Kirby, of course former State Department spokesperson, former Pentagon press secretary, Joseph Yun, a former U.S. special rep for North Korean policy and global affairs analyst. They're both with us.

Let's look at the president. He's just landed in Hanoi. And he is about to walk down the steps off Air Force One.

We'll see, Dana, it's going to be interesting to see who he is greeted by here.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: No. That's right. I mean, look, first of all, let's talk about Donald Trump coming to Vietnam. Obviously he's coming to Vietnam as a, you know, mutually agreed upon place so he can talk to Kim Jong-un. Just looking to see who he's meeting.

HARLOW: Yes. It's a little bit blurry. It's a bit blurry there as well. And --

(CROSSTALK)

HARLOW: They are telling me we're having a hard time hearing you. So they're going to work on your mic for a moment there.

But, Kaitlan Collins, if you're with us, are you looking at these pictures? Can you see who is greeting the president there on the tarmac?

COLLINS: Yes. So we know it's going to be several officials, likely Vietnamese officials that are here meeting with the president. You see him coming down and of course, Poppy, this came after Kim Jong-un arrived in Vietnam earlier today and had quite a red carpet rollout, literally a red carpet rollout, and met him at that train because he took a train ride here. It took him closer to 50 to 70 hours.

A much longer trip for him than it was for President Trump. And you see President Trump here meeting with these officials. He's speaking with them right now. And we know that once he gets here he's going to go straight back to his hotel for the night. Nothing expected for the rest of the evening here in Hanoi. But tomorrow the president is not only going to meet with several

high-level Vietnamese officials including the president, likely the prime minister. But then he's going to have that dinner with Kim Jong-un. That's something we didn't see in Singapore. Instead they had that day of summits where they had lunch one-on-one.

[09:10:05] No one else was in the room. And we're expecting them to have a small dinner after a meet-and-greet tomorrow night and then the next day is when they're going to get down to the nitty-gritty and have those meetings where they're trying to hamper our those deals. So right now the president is also here getting his greeting.

And Poppy, we know this has actually played a really big part in the planning of all of this. The president wanted the same glitz and glamour that he got when he was in Singapore for that first historic meeting with Kim Jong-un. And he's, you know, really meetings with lawmakers and allies, and even other world leaders have visited. The president has compared that summit to an awards show talking about all the cameras that were there and even as this past week speaking with reporters and the Republican Governors Association talked about what that meeting looked like.

And he wants this meeting to be similar to that. He's even remarked that he believes he should get the Nobel Peace Prize for his work and his sitting down with Kim Jong-un. So the president really wants a lot of the focus to be on the summit and just the idea that they are sitting down together.

HARLOW: Kaitlan, thank you very much.

Rear Admiral John Kirby, to you. Look, we know from the top intelligence officials in this country, director of National Intelligence, Dan Coats, and also CIA Director Gina Haspel, that although these tests by North Korea of their nuclear weapons have stopped which the president points to a lot, they still are committed to developing a long-range nuclear missile. And they still see that ability as crucial to the regime's survival.

Is there any reason to believe, Admiral Kirby, that they will give up that bargaining chip at this summit or shortly thereafter?

REAR ADM. JOHN KIRBY, CNN MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: No. Not at all, Poppy. I mean, it's very clear that they view their program as very key, as you said, to their survival. It is their biggest bargaining chip, it is the leverage that has brought us to this now second summit. They have no intention of giving that up here in Hanoi. And frankly even if they did, Poppy, it would be a decades- long process to denuclearize North Korea. It's a very complicated process. It requires a lot of care and attention as well as a very vigorous verification regime that is not in place. And I don't even know that we'll get that much out of Hanoi.

HARLOW: Joseph Yun, there is a big issue here for the president if he does decide that he would like to lessen sanctions on North Korea, right? If he sees some gives from Kim Jong-un and he wants the U.S. to reciprocate with a big of sanctions relief which is on the table and that was clear on Pompeo's interviews this weekend.

There is a law that the president signed in 2017 that prohibits him without Congress getting on board from allowing real economic activity between the United States and North Korea. Yet that is the promise that he made to North Korea just this week. He was talking about, you know, the economic powerhouse that it could be should it make some concessions.

But gain, that's not up to the president here really, is it? Congress needs to get on board.

JOSEPH YUN, FORMER U.S. SPECIAL ENVOY TO NORTH KOREA POLICY: Yes. You're completely right, Poppy. But remember there are other sanctions that he could certainly give a green light to. One of them is the South Korean unilateral sanctions, specifically earlier this year we saw Kim Jong-u asking to re-start his own industrial complex project as well as Mount Kumgang tours. So those are some things South Koreans could do with a green light from Washington.

And then there are the U.N. sanctions which really Congress does not enter into it. So those are, again, the kind of sanctions that if Washington were to approve, certainly I think many other countries and U.N. Security Council including Russia and China could go along. So yes, the answer to your question, there are some sanctions he could give relief to.

HARLOW: Dana, now that we have your mic fixed, I'm glad you're back with me. Who, from your reporting, has the president's ear more? John Bolton, who wants this more hardlined approach against the Kim regime, or Steve Biegun, former Ford Motor Company executive who is now leading the negotiations, who gave this talk at Stanford last month that a lot of people looked at because he talked about, you know, potential corresponding measures from the U.S. should North Korea give a little bit? And that worried some people that he may go too soft.

BASH: Yes. I think the answer to that question is it depends on how the president is feeling that moment because he has -- he, the president, has been much more forward leaning pre-Bolton on the notion of being able to negotiate, to be able to sit down with Kim Jong-un.

HARLOW: Right.

BASH: And -- I mean, obviously the fact that we're even watching these historic pictures should be noted. I mean, now it's the second one so it's not --

HARLOW: No, it's a huge -- I mean, you're right. It's a huge deal.

BASH: Exactly.

[09:15:00]

HARLOW: That even Bernie Sanders last, I thought was so interesting --

BASH: Yes --

HARLOW: That Bernie Sanders, a Democratic candidate for the presidency said he's supportive of in terms of meeting face-to-face with adversaries he called a good idea.

BASH: Yes -- no, exactly, and I remember covering the Bush administration, George W. Bush administration, and the whole controversy was about the fact that the last Democratic president before that actually sent the Secretary of State to do exactly this.

And they thought it was weak and so on and so forth. So this is a huge deal. The question is just as it was in Singapore, to what end? There was a very broad framework in Singapore, North Korea has been dragging its feet, no question about it.

And the question is, is it up to the administration, is it up to the president? Is it the appropriate course of action to give something in return for -- for what?

HARLOW: Right --

BASH: Especially if we don't have any proof that North Korea is actually going to do anything --

HARLOW: Right --

BASH: Other than stop the missile testing which is no small thing.

HARLOW: It's such a good point because especially hearing Pompeo over the weekend on multiple networks --

BASH: Yes --

HARLOW: Just lambast the previous administration for what he called cowering and praying, they need to show that this administration's act will be very different --

BASH: Yes --

HARLOW: And that they can actually get concessions from North Korea. Don't go anywhere.

BASH: OK --

HARLOW: We need your expertise on Michael Cohen on the Hill. Real Admiral John Kirby, Joseph Yun there in Hanoi, Vietnam, thank you both very much. Still to come, moments to go, the president's former lawyer and so-called fixer Michael Cohen just arrived -- you see him there, with his attorney Lanny Davis by his side on Capitol Hill.

This is the start of three days of testimony before Congress. What is he expected to say? That's next.

[09:20:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HARLOW: All right, as we said moments ago, Michael Cohen; the president's former lawyer and long-time associate arrived on Capitol Hill, you see behind him there, over his left shoulder, his attorney Lanny Davis, he is beginning three days of testimony in the Hill today and Thursday behind closed doors, tomorrow in public for everyone to see.

Let's talk more about this as former federal and state prosecutor Elie Honig, Dana Bash is also with me. Elie, you have a great piece right now on cnn.com. The five important questions to ask Michael Cohen. People can read that to get all five. For you, number one, what is it and why?

ELIE HONIG, FORMER FEDERAL & STATE PROSECUTOR: Poppy, I'd start right with the crimes that we know Michael Cohen committed, and that we know he committed with others. And that's two things, that's the hush money payments which violate campaign finance laws and that's his false testimony to the Senate about the timing of the Trump Tower Moscow project.

Both of those -- if you look at the plea documents, it makes clear that he committed those with and for other people. The hush money payments, Cohen himself said he did it at the direction of the president. So I hope that the members of the house committee dig down deep on that, and who else was involved?

The plea documents talk about other members of the Trump Org, executive one and executive two who were involved in those payments. On the false testimony, the documents also make clear that there was a process of preparing and circulating the false testimony. So that suggests pretty clearly to me that others were involved. I'd start with those two things.

HARLOW: OK, so Sarah Sanders at the White House has just released a statement about how they feel about all of this. Let me read you the beginning. Quote, "disgraced felon Michael Cohen is going to prison for lying and making other false statements, OK?

HONIG: Yes --

HARLOW: Then she says sadly, he'll go before Congress this week, we can expect more of the same. So, as a prosecutor, how would you salvage the credibility of a witness who is an admitted lawyer?

HONIG: Yes, I could have told you that statement before hearing it. It's absolutely standard attack that people make on cooperating witnesses. There are liars, there are admitted criminals, that's always the case with cooperating witnesses. That's why they're cooperating witnesses. And there's way that you rehabilitate a person.

First of all, what is his incentive now? What does he get out of lying now? I don't know if there's a good answer to that. How does he benefit? I think he's still trying to play for additional sentencing benefit which you can get at this point.

HARLOW: All right -- HONIG: And look, he's made a clean break from the president. I think

he wants to be John Dean in the history books. The other key piece though is the corroboration, Poppy, and we heard reporting earlier from MJ that Cohen is saying he's going to bring the proof with him, whether that's documents --

HARLOW: Right --

HONIG: We know he made tapes. That kind of stuff is devastating because you can -- they can and will say Michael Cohen is a liar and a criminal, and in the past that's been true. But if he's got the backup, he's got the backup.

HARLOW: Yes, and Dana, if he's going to be the John Dean, then he actually would have to contribute significantly to the downfall of a presidency, not just embarrass the president. We heard Elijah Cummings, who is the chair of the Oversight Committee that will have the public hearing tomorrow say people will be reading about this 200 years from now.

He even said, this could be a turning point in our country's history. He said it could be. How significant do you think it will be?

BASH: Let's see what he has to say because Michael Cohen has made clear to his -- you know, friends, family, confidant, reporters, that that's exactly what he wants, to be the John Dean.

HARLOW: Yes --

BASH: But whether or not that means contributing to the downfall of a president is unclear. He just is talking about his own legacy. He wants to be on what he considers to be the right side of history --

HARLOW: Because John Dean rehabilitated his image --

BASH: Absolutely, exactly --

(CROSSTALK)

And so that's what Michael Cohen wants --

HARLOW: OK --

BASH: Wants to follow, absolutely right. But I think what Elie said about the questions he would ask as a prosecutor about the crimes that he committed according to our Gloria Borger, those are the answers that Michael Cohen is prepared to give.

HARLOW: Right --

BASH: Specifically about the president of the United States, how the president contributed to the crimes that he's going to jail for committing.

HARLOW: One, and so the Republican pushback to this, I mean, we've seen Rep. Jim Jordan and Mark Meadows say they want Rosenstein to testify, you know, beside Cohen along with all of this. That's not happening, but I thought that Elijah Cummings' response to why -- you know, to Republicans saying, oh, he's not credible, et cetera.

[09:25:00] Why are you bringing up here, this is just a charade, this is just a show. The fact that Elijah Cummings said, well, you know, to our knowledge, he's the only one who we know is pointing to the president directly and saying, you committed a crime. So we owe it to the president to hear his side here.

BASH: Yes, I mean, that's --

HARLOW: It was interesting --

BASH: That's a clever spin on it, no question. But look, yes, Republicans are going to beat him up. Why wouldn't they? He is a convicted criminal and one of the major crimes he's convicted of is lying to the very body he's going before right now.

HARLOW: Right.

BASH: So that's an obvious point of criticism for those who are defending the president. One of the things that I would just want to point out is, as we speak, Michael Cohen is on Capitol Hill behind closed doors. The public hearing is tomorrow, he's behind closed doors, and the Senate Intel on Thursday, he'll go before the House Intel Committee.

So in these sessions, he's able to talk about things that are not public knowledge, classified. And in the public testimony, we don't expect him to be able to go there on all things Russia. Not so in the private --

HARLOW: In the private, that's a really great plan --

BASH: So whether or not he will give answers for example to the specifics of the Moscow project which he was involved in, trying to push forward during the campaign. And there's been all this back and forth about how long into the campaign, the two of them, Michael Cohen and Donald Trump talked about it. Unclear if he's going to be able to talk about that in public, but he's probably going to be able to talk about it right now as we speak.

HARLOW: It's a great -- and on Thursday, again.

BASH: And on Thursday again --

HARLOW: And the other committee -- Elie, to you, among the long list of topics that we know, Elijah Cummings has planned for the Oversight Committee hearing which is tomorrow are and I quote, "efforts by the president and his attorney to intimidate Mr. Cohen and others not to testify."

Presumably, those efforts would also, Elie, include texts insinuating that Cohen's family members may have exposure to prosecution. We heard what the president wrote in those tweets just a few weeks ago. Do you see witness intimidation here? HONIG: It could be, and I think that's going to be one of the really

interesting questions tomorrow, right? We all saw the public statements that the president and Rudy Giuliani made which were pretty clearly semi-veiled threats against Cohen's father-in-law.

But if there's more, if he was contacted directly, if there are texts or e-mails, we know the president doesn't text or e-mail, but sent by his attorneys or sent by other emissaries, we absolutely need to see that. And I think what's already been done publicly, even just the sort of subtle mentions of the father-in-law, I think that's right on the borderline and arguably over the line of witness intimidation. And if there's more, that's going to even strengthen that case.

HARLOW: Dana, your sources, both Democrats and Republicans, what do they believe and what is their strategy first to the Democrats and then to the Republicans in terms of what they hope to get out of Michael Cohen at the end of these three days, so by Thursday night.

BASH: Well, let's start with the Republicans --

HARLOW: OK --

BASH: Because that's easier. They just want to poke holes in his credibility, which they don't think is going to be very difficult to do because he is a convicted criminal --

HARLOW: But don't they want answers also even if it is a Republican president? I mean --

BASH: That's a legitimate question, some of them, maybe. But for the most part, they are out to defend the president. Everybody's president, but the president that many of their supporters, particularly when you're talking about these smaller house districts --

HARLOW: Yes --

BASH: Which are very gerrymandered, very staunch Trump supporters. And that's just the political reality. Right or wrong, that is a political reality. Not everybody, but most of these Republicans. When it comes to the Democrats, I mean, this is -- this is as big of the big leagues that you could possibly get when you're talking about having a stage to question somebody who was as close as they come to the president of the United States.

And not just close, the guy who is the self-proclaimed fixer, translation, doing all of his dirty work.

HARLOW: Right, and the strategy for the Democrats?

BASH: So the strategy is -- let me say, should be to go easy on the grandstanding and go heavy on the inquisition, the questioning of this guy to try to get as much information out of him as possible. That's how it should be. You know, unclear according to people I talked to whether they can, you know, kind of get over the hump of understanding that the cameras are in front of them. But, look, these committees have a lot of experience in having big

witnesses, maybe not on this issue. Hillary Clinton is you know, probably the last big --

HARLOW: Sure --

BASH: Witness before this committee. And they organize and they go through. They tend to go through, and my understanding is they're doing this now, OK, these are the broad range of issues, you take this, you take this, I'll take this.

HARLOW: OK, Dana Bash, thank you very much --

BASH: Thank you --

HARLOW: On all fronts from North Korea to Michael Cohen, we got it all covered with you. Thank you, Elie as well, again, your piece is fantastic, "Five Questions for Michael Cohen", you can read it right now on cnn.com. Wait for what we have next. It is remarkable.

Living in Taliban country, our chief international correspondent Clarissa Ward goes behind enemy lines for an exclusive in-depth inside look.

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