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Trump Arrives In Hanoi As Cohen Arrives On Capitol Hill; Source: Cohen Is Expected To Discuss Publicly For The First Time Trump's Role In Some Of The Crimes That Cohen Pleaded Guilty To; GOP Senator Says He Will Vote Against Trump's Natl. Emergency. Aired 10- 10:30a ET

Aired February 26, 2019 - 10:00   ET

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


[10:00:00]

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: All right. Top of the hour. Good morning, everyone. 10:00 a.m. here on the East Coast in the United States. 10:00 p.m. in Hanoi, Vietnam. That is where the president is. You see him moments ago, his motorcade arriving there to the left of your screen. And we're at the starting point of two major events that will unfold over the next three days with consequences potentially lasting years.

The president on the ground in Hanoi for his second face-to-face meeting with the North Korean dictator, Kim Jong-un. Meantime, on the other side of your screen, half a world away, literally, the president's former lawyer, defender and problem-solver, a man who once declared he would take a bullet for his boss, has started three days of congressional testimony before three separate committees, before he goes off to prison. The White House will be watching Michael Cohen's public testimony tomorrow, and presumably, the president very well may as well.

Let's begin on Capitol Hill, Manu Raju, is there. You've got some really interesting color and reporting from a number of key lawmakers that are involved in these hearings this week, namely Elijah Cummings, who chairs the Oversight Committee, who will host that public hearing tomorrow. What's his goal? And what -- I thought his response was interesting, Manu, to the Republican criticism of this whole thing.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. I spoke to them last night about this public hearing That's going to happen tomorrow, which we expect to cover a whole range of issues. And, namely, whether that the president committed any crimes, while with Michael Cohen as part of that hush money scheme, as well as other things that he may have done with the Trump organization.

Things that Michael Cohen knows that the president may have done while in office that Cohen may allege some wrongdoing. Well, here's some details about that. Whether he has any corroborating evidence will be a key question going forward, given that he himself has a lot of skepticism about his own credibility here on Capitol Hill, after he lied to multiple congressional committees back in 2017. But, coming still, talking about tomorrow's hearing as a rather dramatic moment, last night they're saying to me this, he said, "It may very well be a turning point in our country's history, I don't know. But we want to do is conduct a fair hearing, we want a civil hearing and we want to be effective and efficient in letting the American people know what's going on."

Now, today's hearing, though Poppy, is not going be about that. It's going to be behind closed doors before the Senate Intelligence Committee about the Russia investigation, about what he knew about that Trump Tower Moscow project. Why he lied about the duration of those talks back in 2016. That's going to be a big focus for today.

This closed-door hearing tomorrow, will be the public hearing, where we will hear all the rest of his story Poppy.

HARLOW: Yes. And Manu Raju, as I understand it, some new, interesting reporting from our colleague, Pam Brown, in terms of the White House plan, and the president's plan, in terms of watching this even while he is in Hanoi.

RAJU: Yes. According to Pam's reporting, we are hearing that the White House plans to watch it pretty intently tomorrow, perhaps not surprisingly, prepare to brief the president on this. President himself, likely to, potentially could stay up overnight to watch this. There's a public hearing, because it will occur in the overnight hours when he is in Vietnam.

So even if the president and the White House continues to downplay this moment, attack Michael Cohen's credibility in character, they are very, very attuned to what's going on, very concerned about what he may say, and we'll see what the president -- how the president ultimately responds, as we of course know he will - Poppy.

HARLOW: Manu Raju on the Hill reporting. Thanks very much.

New details into CNN about what Cohen will discuss during this testimony. Our colleague Karis Kanal is with me. And look, the president's alleged role in Cohen's crimes is on top of this list. And I hear something about documents that he may be bringing as well.

KARIS KANAL, CNN REPORTER: That's right, Poppy. I mean, on this, as Cohen begin his three-day journey on Capitol Hill, a person familiar with his preparations, tells us that Michael Cohen is prepared to talk for the first time publicly about Donald Trump's role in the crimes that he has pleaded guilty to.

Namely, those hush money payments to the two women who alleged having affairs with Donald Trump. Now, when Cohen pled guilty last summer, he said that he did these payments, he helped facilitate these payments, in coordination with, and at the direction of Donald Trump.

But what we'll see over the hearings, over the next couple of days, and the one tomorrow publicly is, Cohen will be able to describe more about that in detail. He'll likely be pressed by both Democrats and Republicans about that. So we'll get a fuller picture about the president's role in that.

TEXT: EXPECTED TOPICS FOR MICHAEL COHEN'S TESTIMONY. President's business practices. Hush money payments. Potential and actual conflicts of interest. Compliance with tax laws.

KANAL: And the person who also is familiar with the preperations told us that Cohen is also prepared to discuss Trump's business dealings at the time that he was running for office. So we might learn more about what Trump organization was up to, these plans in the Trump Tower Moscow, and just, you know, what else was going on behind the scenes, because Cohen has had a front-row seat to Donald Trump.

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KANAL: He has been his attorney, his personal attorney for 10 years. The Trump Organization is a small operation, so Michael Cohen knows a lot of what was going on within that. So he has, you know, really a front-row seat, and he'll be able to provide some information here.

Now, the question about Cohen is always his credibility, because he is admitted to lying.

HARLOW: Yes.

KANAL: He was such a loyal defender to the president. The person familiar with his preparation says he may bring documents to the Hill to back up some of his claims. It remains to be seen what those documents are, and what exactly Michael Cohen is going to say.

But given his relationship with Trump and this, you know, opportunity to be not only just provide information, but to be questioned about it, is going to be very fascinating - Poppy.

HARLOW: For sure. Karis, thanks to the reporting.

I'm joined now by former Federal Prosecutor and veteran of the Whitewater probe, Kim Whele, and CNN Political Director, David Chalian. Thank you both for being here. David Chalian, Elijah Cummings, who heads the Oversight Committee, who got this public hearing tomorrow that he'll be chairing, says that this may be a turning point in our country's history. And we know that Michael Cohen wants to be akin to John Dean.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Right.

HARLOW: The question is, will he just embarrass the president, or will he actually be similar to John Dean in terms of John Dean's crucial role in bringing down a presidency.

CHALIAN: It's a really good question, Poppy, and obviously, one we don't yet have the answer to, but I suspect we are in such a different media and political environment than when John Dean provided his testimony. People are so dug in, in our polarized electorate. And Donald Trump, as you have tracked his approval rating over the last two years, as every bombshell revelation has been revealed, that hasn't really impacted his numbers all that much, and hasn't caused erosion among his core supporters.

And so, I'm a little doubtful that Michael Cohen's testimony will be able to all of a sudden up-end that trajectory that we've seen, sort of, baked in over the last two years, which doesn't at all mean that this is not a really big moment in the country's history. This is somebody from the inside, a former loyalist, very publicly turning on the president. There's no doubt that that will have some sway with the American people.

I just think that, in this political environment, so many people - so few people -- are moveable here that I'm not sure this one thing is going to be the thing that does it.

HARLOW: So David, it sounds like you're saying, you know, it's a lot less likely there will be a Howard Baker moment here. What did the president know? When did he know it, right? A Republican, in his own party, asking the key question.

CHALIAN: Yes. I mean, one thing that I think has been, sort of, the story politically of the Trump administration, through this entire investigative process, has been the real closing of the ranks among Republicans.

I mean, Howard Baker -- yes, asked that famous question, and famously also, went down to the White House when it was time to tell Nixon that this was up, right?

HARLOW: Right.

CHALIAN: That the party was turning on him. Nothing like that. We've had no indication that the president's supporters on Capitol Hill are ready to break from him. And, as Karis was just suggesting, part of what they will use is, why Michael Cohen is not the right vehicle for that is, his own credibility issues in the past.

HARLOW: Right. So to those credibility issues Kim, we just had the White House come out. Here's part of their statement, "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."

And yes, he admitted to lying to Congress to this body that he's now going before for three days. How do you as a prosecutor -- ? How would you salvage the credibility of an admitted liar?

KIM WHELE, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Well, this is not atypical. There are lots of times in trials where people will cooperate in exchange for some kind of leniency. And to say all of those people are not credible, it could never be their testimony be taken as truthful would, sort of, break a lot of the foundation of the criminal justice system.

So Mr. Cohen has said that he lied, because he was cooperating, or wanting to cover for the president. And, of course, he's been prosecuted for lying before Congress. So I think he has a different incentive at this point. I mean, if he's going to lie again here, it wouldn't make sense to lie in a manner that was consistent with what he did before

That is, today, and tomorrow, and the next day, if he tells the truth, it'll be in a manner that's inconsistent with his rationale for lying before. So I think it's actually a really important moment for, and I tend to agree with, Representative Cummings that, that this is the first time the American people, kind of, like what we saw with the Brett Kavanaugh hearings, can sit at their television sets, and watch someone under oath tell their story about what it was like to work for this president.

And I think a lot of information that has not been made public is going to come out publicly. And it will bear, not just potentially on impeachment and oversight, but on the next election, which is crucial.

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WHELE: Because if there were crimes committed, and they cannot be indicted under the DOJ guidelines, then they -- then him not getting a second term would be critical to getting under the statute of limitations for federal crimes.

HARLOW: David politically, is this the best time in the world for the president to literally hold a very important meeting about the future of, you know, nuclear proliferation on the globe, or is it the worst time politically?

CHALIAN: I think it all depends on how the president handles that, handles this split screen moment. It could be, right? North Korea has been one of his biggest potential successes. There's a long way to go in denuclearizing North Korea, as the president has said is his stated goal.

But he holds it out there as a real potential success. If he made real progress here, and was able to be disciplined enough to focus on any real progress that happens in the summit, you can imagine that he can, sort of, counter program a bit away from the Michael Cohen spectacle on Capitol Hill.

However, that would bilie everything we know about Donald Trump's behavior today, Poppy. We have seen how consumed he becomes with press coverage of anything related to the investigations into him and his campaign. We know how he feels about Michael Cohen. He's made that quite clear, that he thinks he's a rat.

And so, I doubt that he is going to be able to turn away and, therefore, by being on the world stage, and getting consumed with something that irritates him like this, could indeed impact his performance negatively over there.

HARLOW: That's an interesting point, right? Especially if he's up overnight watching a lot of this. David Chalian, thank you. Kim Whele, so nice to have you both.

Still to come, the president is now in Hanoi. His motorcade just arrived at his hotel there in Vietnam, ahead of this second crucial summit with North Korean leader, Kim Jung-un. We'll take you live to the ground.

Also, in just hours, the House will vote on a measure to try to block the president's emergency declaration to fund the border wall. One prominent Republican senator now says he is breaking with the president on this. But the question becomes, will more follow his lead?

And a group of journalists briefly detained in Venezuela after an interview with the embattled Venezuelan president, Nicolas Maduro. That Maduro did not like this as he tossed his new accusations at the Trump administration.

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HARLOW: All right. Welcome back. U.S. President Trump and North Korean leader, Kim Jung-un, are now in Vietnam, ahead of their second summit. They have a dinner planned tomorrow before the meetings begin. And the question now is, what will the two agree on before the president is set to leave Hanoi on Thursday?

With me now, White House Correspondent, Kaitlan Collins. A lot of fascinating stuff here, including that we just learned the president will stay up overnight, possibly to watch that Michael Cohen testimony, before this key second summit. The lead negotiators here, right? Who do all of that, they're different this time, Kaitlan, than the then the first two, in the previous summit. Does that mean the approach is going to bee a lot different?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's the question here, do those people make a difference? Does what the outcome of this summit is going to change from what happened in Singapore? Which was really more about breaking the ice, and having that first, formal sit-down.

And now, there's going to be the expectation that, if you're going to be having all these meetings, what is going to be the endgame? And you're right, Poppy. Who's in the room with the president is going to look a little bit different. Not during that first dinner that they're going to have tomorrow night. That's the first time that the president and Kim Jung-un will come face-to-face.

And in that dinner, it's going to be pretty small. Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, and the Chief of Staff, Mick Mulvaney, are going to be joining the president, as well as two officials from the North Korean side. And, of course, translators in the room during that dinner.

Then, on Thursday is, when the formal summit is going to get underway. And that's what it's going to look a little bit different, because you're going to have that new U.S. Special Envoy to North Korea, Steve Biegun in the room with President Trump. And that's someone who has raised a few eyebrows in the West Wing in recent days, because one, mainly of a speech, Poppy, that he gave where he talked about if North Korea made certain concessions, certain changes, that there would be corresponding measures from the United States.

Now that goes against what people like National Security Advisor, John Bolton, have wanted to see, which said, they want to keep up the pressure on North Korea until something happens, not take any steps at the same time.

Of course, Poppy, what we should focus on here is, this week, leading up to this summit, White House officials have admitted that they have not come to an agreement with North Koreans on what denuclearization is going to look like on both sides. So that's the big question that people will be paying attention to.

HARLOW: Kaitlan, thank you. You'll be there for Jim Sciutto. Obviously, our colleague is on the ground in Hanoi. He'll be with us for the week of this coverage. We appreciate it. Also in Hanoi, Rear Admiral, John Kirby, our military and diplomatic analyst, and former State Department, spokesperson.

Admiral Kirby, it seems like when you listen to Secretary of State Pompeo, and when you listen to the president talking about, you know, we're just glad they're not testing, etc. It does seem like that demand, for, you know, complete, irreversible, verifiable denuclearization has shifted. Is that a good thing?

REAR ADMIRAL JOHN KIRBY, CNN MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: No, I don't think in the long run that it is. But I think what they're trying to do is find a little breathing space to keep the North Koreans at the table and willing to talk.

And so, there's a certain logic to it. But I think it's really important that we stick. We, the United States, stick with the conventional definition here of denuclearization --

HARLOW: Right.

KIRBY: -- which is completely verifiable and irreversible. It's important, Poppy, to also remember that we have a different mindset about denuclearization than they do. Kaitlan talked about the fact that there is no common definition. To the North Koreans, when they talk about denuclearization, they mean of all sides.

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KIRBY: They mean our side as well, and they don't just mean the Korean Peninsula. The way we think of it, territorially, they think of it -- about any territory that can threaten North Korea with nuclear missiles.

HARLOW: Yes.

KIRBY: So they have a much more expansive, geographical definition than we have.

HARLOW: Admiral, you know, the president has some power here in terms of softening sanctions on North Korea, which we may see if the U.S. gets some gives. But his hands are tied, to a great extent, in terms of how much of the economic sanctions can be lifted, because of the 2017 Bill that he signed into law, right? That basically bars any commerce between --

KIRBY: That's right.

HARLOW: -- U.S. companies and North Korea, or imports to this country from North Korea.

KIRBY: No, that's right. Unilaterally, he's going to have to work with Congress to lift U.S. sanctions, because of the law that he signed. He also has a very limited ability to affect international sanctions, U.N. sanctions. Obviously, we have a vote on the Security Council, but those U.N. sanctions have been in place for a long, long time. It's going to take a lot more than just vying (ph), Trump to move that.

He does have a little flexibility working with President Moon Jae-in of South Korea --

HARLOW: Yes.

KIRBY: -- because the South Koreans have some bilateral sanctions, and economic measures that they've put in place that they might be willing to lift, and those are not insignificant in terms of the north's economy. So that would be one avenue that he could explore.

HARLOW: Admiral Kirby, thank you very much. It must be fascinating to be on the ground. I know you'll be sitting alongside Jim very soon as well. Thanks so much.

Ahead for us, a major vote in the House. An attempt to block the president's national emergency, but they need Republicans in the Senate to get on board. And can they get enough? That's next.

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HARLOW: All right. This morning, a Republican senator is publicly rebuking the president's national emergency declaration to fund the border wall. This, as the Democratic-led House, votes on a resolution to try to block that declaration in just a few hours.

So here's what North Carolina Republican Senator, Thom Tillis, writes in a new "Washington Post" opinion piece, "Conservatives rightfully cried foul when President Barack Obama used executive action to completely bypass Congress...There is no intellectual honesty in now turning around and arguing that there's an imaginary asterisk attached to executive overreach - that it's acceptable from my party but not thy party. As a U.S. senator, I cannot justify providing the executive with more ways to bypass Congress."

Joining me now is David Gergen, former Presidential Adviser to four presidents. We'll get to him in a moment. My apologies, Phil Mattingly, is with me for more. So I mean it's not a total surprise that this came from Thom Tillis. But it still is something that the president will not welcome. And it is still going on a limb against many in his party, and saying we can't do this in good conscience, because of what we've said in the past, and what it could mean for presidents in the future, Phil.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Kind of highlighting the hypocrisy, and actually putting into print what we had heard, or what I've heard, from several Republican senators leading into this moment, leading into this week.

Obviously, the House will vote, probably around 5:00, 5:30, today on this resolution. And House Democrats, who control the chamber, expect to pass the resolution to terminate the president's national emergency. The expectation right now, I'm told, is about 10 or 15 Republicans will likely join them. Then send it over to the Senate, where it's always been clear Senate Republicans, were struggling with this idea, struggling with it on constitutional grounds, struggling with it on ideological grounds. And as Senator Tillis laid out in his op-ed in the "Washington Post", struggling with it on, is this hypocrisy grounds.

I think the key issue, though, is that Senator Tillis won't be alone. Susan Collins of Maine, Republican Senator, has already said she will also join him in voting to terminate the national emergency. I'm told right now, there's probably about a half dozen other Republican senators who are considering the possibility of it, but don't necessarily just view it as kind of a policy issue, also view it as a, kind of, allegiance to the president issue.

The president, who leads the party. The president, who remains very popular in the party. And the president, Poppy, who's made very clear that this is the kind of the central issue, not only that he ran on in 2016, his administration believes in now. And then he plans on running on in 2020.

The president already tweeting at Republican senators yesterday, telling him to stay in line on this. Vice President, Mike Pence, will be on Capitol Hill meeting with Republican senators in a couple hours doing the same thing. House Republicans, just a short while ago in a closed-door conference meeting, I'm told, getting the same message from their leaders.

Republicans trying to stay in line, and that, more than anything else, will likely keep those numbers. While it will pass, both the House and the Senate, will keep it below the veto override threshold, meaning the national emergency declaration will likely stay in place, regardless of how Republicans senators really feel about it, Poppy.

HARLOW: It's a good point Phil. Thank you very much. The numbers matter a lot here. Let's discuss with David Gergen. David, I was so excited to talk to you. I got to you before I even went to Phil Mattingly. So I apologize to keep you keep you waiting. Look, you heard the president --

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Welcome back. HARLOW: Welcome back. You heard the president's warning yesterday tp

Republican senators. His words to them, do not be, "Weak on border security." And as Phil just outlined, I mean, the numbers aren't there. You know, the 67 votes in the Senate to override a presidential veto on this just aren't there.

But there is a stand being made by Thom Tillis, by Susan Collins, and we know that they're -- you know, we know the makeup of those they represent, and part of the politics behind why they maybe making the statement.

But, I mean, this is a vote that Republicans are going to have to defend.

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