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Will Republicans Cave to Trump Over National Emergency Declaration?; Trump and Kim Set to Meet; Michael Cohen Preparing to Testify Publicly Before Congress. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired February 26, 2019 - 15:00   ET

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


[15:00:02]

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: And it is there, for the very first time, according to a source, that Cohen is expected to publicly discuss President Trump's role in some of the crimes Cohen pleaded guilty to last year.

They involve those hush money payments to two women alleging affairs with Donald Trump. The White House is pointing out Cohen has also pleaded guilty to making false statements. And Sarah Sanders, the White House press secretary, says this: "It is 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."

So, let's go straight to Capitol Hill to our senior congressional correspondent, Manu Raju.

And, Manu, we mentioned Cohen started about 9:00 this morning with Senate Intel getting this -- quote, unquote -- "extensive grilling" is what you're hearing from your sources. What's happening behind closed doors?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, a lot focusing on these past statements that he made lying to this very committee back in 2017 when he discussed the Trump Tower Moscow project, a project that the Trump Organization was pursuing and that he was consulting then candidate Trump on back during the election season of 2015.

And he initially told the committee, well, there was really nothing much to it, the talks ended in January 2016. Well, he later pleaded guilty to lying to this committee about that testimony, those conversations, much more extensive than he let on, also going on into June of 2016, into the election season, when that Russian interference campaign was happening.

So, a lot of questions about these past misstatements, and I'm told that a good portion at least of the morning was focused on that. Roy Blunt, Senate Intelligence Committee member, suggesting as much, telling our colleague Ted Barrett: "There's a reason that this is a closed hearing, but he did spend quite a bit of time explaining what he had told us before that wasn't truthful."

Now, Susan Collins, who is another member of the committee, said that, yes, indeed, he's been going through a -- quote -- "extensive grilling." She said he's a different kind of person, suggested there's some new information that they are learning.

And what we're told is that behind closed doors that the committee members themselves are not actually doing the questioning. It's being led by the staff investigators of the Senate Intelligence Committee. They're the ones who are doing the grilling of Michael Cohen.

The senators who are attending are passing along questions, along with notes to the staffers who are going along and asking these questions. This is the only committee who is going to be operating like that.

Tomorrow, Brooke, of course, public setting, they're going to be talking about a whole range of other topics, the hush money payments that occurred between Michael Cohen and those women who alleged affairs with the president, the president's involvement with that, being implicated in crimes that Michael Cohen provides to provide new information about raising those allegations publicly tomorrow, and then Thursday before the House Intelligence Committee, where once again they will be talking about the Russia investigation in more detail, which he won't discuss in as much detail publicly.

So today just the beginning of a gauntlet here on Capitol Hill, but at the moment members describing this testimony today as professional and getting some information. We will see whether they view his testimony as credible -- Brooke.

BALDWIN: Yes. Manu, thank you very much.

And let's just focus in on this public testimony tomorrow.

And let me bring in an expert on really all things President Trump and his family.

Gwenda Blair wrote the book "The Trumps: Three Generations of Builders and a President."

Gwenda Blair, nice to have you back.

GWENDA BLAIR, AUTHOR, "THE TRUMPS": Hi there.

BALDWIN: So which parts of Cohen's testimony, when it comes to the president's business and his finances, do you think will worry the president the most?

BLAIR: It's a rich smorgasbord here.

BALDWIN: Take your pick.

BLAIR: Really -- gosh, what a treasure trove.

We don't really know what the -- what was found when Trump's offices -- I mean, I'm sorry.

BALDWIN: Cohen's offices.

(CROSSTALK)

BLAIR: Cohen's offices were raided. Oops.

So we're still teasing out, what was that evidence? And he's supposed to be bringing up new facts and supposedly new documents because apparently it's not enough for him just to at this point to say that this happened or that happened. He's going to show documents.

So what are those? And what are they going to be about? I think they're going to be about how long those talks went on about Trump Tower Moscow and exactly what the details were of those hush money payments.

And what was the background with Cohen's father-in-law, Fima Shusterman, and the apparent money that came from the Eastern European somewhat shady sources that was tapped and was perhaps the reason that Donald Trump ever really had much to do with Cohen in the first place, the access to Cohen's father-in-law's very deep pockets at a time that Donald Trump was still, let's see, the four corporate bankruptcies?

[15:05:11]

He could not get financing from traditional U.S. banks and was looking rather frantically for financing for his projects in the early 2000s, which is when Cohen came into the picture.

(CROSSTALK)

BALDWIN: Yes, when he came into play.

And let me just note for everyone watching, as we think about tomorrow, you mentioned maybe he will have documents. I was talking to two former federal prosecutors last hour, and they said he could bring any of that. He could bring documents. He could bring recordings.

He had a penchant to record a lot of things. This is not like court. You can't object to evidence. And so that could all be fair game. What about this, Gwenda? Do you believe that Cohen will implicate or name names when it comes to, as you mentioned, maybe Trump Tower Moscow or the Trump Organization, including his own, Trump's own family members?

BLAIR: Well, I think it's important to note that I believe it was today that Cohen's license to practice law was revoked in New York court.

BALDWIN: That's correct. That's correct. He was disbarred.

BLAIR: He's under a very lot of pressure to substantiate what he's alleging with whatever documentation he can bring in.

So, I have no doubt there are going to be some papers that he's going to be looking at and there's going to be a lot of effort to make -- to bolster what he has to say. And is he going to name names?

I mean, let's hold on to our hats. I think he has a lot to name if he wants to. And, of course, it all comes down ultimately...

(CROSSTALK)

BALDWIN: Sorry, but do you think he will go there he will go there with regard to Trump's family members? Would he name those names?

BLAIR: Well, he's not holding out for a pardon. I think we're pretty sure of that. Trump has ruled it out.

And it doesn't seem to be that he's going to be holding out.

BALDWIN: OK.

BLAIR: So, why not?

BALDWIN: We also know -- imagine, OK, you have Michael Cohen in Washington testifying. You have President Trump over in Vietnam meeting with Kim Jong-un, the dictator of North Korea.

We know that Trump will be up all night, either watching or somehow following along, right, through all of this testimony playing out in Washington. Give us a glimpse into his mind-set, how he will react in real time to Michael Cohen potentially spilling the goods.

BLAIR: I think Trump's use of Twitter is so fascinating.

In his kind of -- in a way, he's like a one-man ongoing permanent focus group, throwing things up there, seeing what happens, and causing -- blowing up any kind of theory anybody could ever have about anything constantly, even if they're his own Cabinet member the other day. He's constantly undercutting what people say.

So whatever Cohen says, he's going to point to him as a liar. We know, of course, Trump's track record for lying is remarkably long. But he will do that. And he will do his best to talk about what he's doing in North Korea to get that, to get the headline, to have that to be what people are paying attention to, that to be the big news, and to have Cohen come across as a has-been, reject, doesn't have his law license anymore.

Those things will all come up too.

BALDWIN: The Cohen testimony starts tomorrow morning. We will take it live here at CNN and we will talk about it through the day.

Gwenda Blair, thank you very much. Appreciate having your voice through all of this.

BLAIR: Thank you.

BALDWIN: Coming up next, President Trump, as we mentioned, arrives in Vietnam for this critical second summit with Kim Jong-un. We will take you live to Hanoi with new details we have learned about the relationship between these two leaders.

And in the next couple of hours, we expect to see House lawmakers pass a resolution to terminate President Trump's national emergency declaration. We have details on the Republican senators who are now publicly opposing the president on this very issue.

And, later, the 2020 Democratic contenders weigh in on slavery reparations. And some are backing the idea.

You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:13:27]

BALDWIN: As the president's former fixer testifies to Congress, President Trump will be halfway around the world readying for his second face-to-face with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un.

And I think we'd all agree that the two men have come quite a long way from the early days of the Trump White House and comments like these:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States. They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.

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

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: So, little by little the ice began to thaw.

Fast-forward to 2018 and to this scene in Singapore last June during the first Trump-Kim summit. Lots of handshakes, long walks, smiles, even a thumbs-up from President Trump. And things went so well that he boldly declared without a shred of evidence that North Korea was no longer a threat shortly after arriving back in Washington.

So what, you may ask, was the turning point? Well, according to President Trump, it was the power of the written word.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: When I did it, and I was really being tough. And so was he. And we were going back and forth. And then we fell in love. OK? No, really. He wrote me beautiful letters.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[15:15:00]

BALDWIN: That was September. But Trump reportedly has had six of these letters, which call him "Your Excellency," while touting his intelligence and energy, letters that he is fond of showing off in private and as he did just a couple weeks ago at a Cabinet meeting in public.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I just got a great letter from Kim Jong-un. And those few people that I have shown this letter to, they have never written letters like that. This letter is a great letter. We have made a lot of progress with North Korea and Kim Jong-un.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: CNN national security reporter Kylie Atwood is live in Hanoi, Vietnam.

And, Kylie, any relationship expert will tell you that trust is key, and you have learned the same is true for President Trump and Kim Jong-un. Tell me more.

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: Yes.

Well, every person would looks at key negotiations says that trust is key, but it takes a while to build that trust, of course. That said, right out of the gates, during the first time that President Trump sat down with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un last year in Singapore, the North Korean leader asked Trump if he trusts him, that key question, right at the beginning of their conversations.

And Trump replied that, yes, he does. He also described what he thought of Kim Jong-un, saying that he was sort of sneaky, but not too sneaky.

I want to point out, however, that the North Koreans aren't just looking at President Trump here. He is a key player. He is the player. But they're keenly aware of the other U.S. negotiators that are influencing Trump here.

So, Kim Jong-un, when he heard those words from Trump saying he trusted him, turned to National Security Adviser John Bolton, who is known for being skeptical of these negotiations with North Korea, he asked him the same question. Do you trust me? Bolton then told him, if Trump does, I do as well.

So the question here is what is Trump going to sit down and discuss with the North Koreans over the next two days here in Hanoi? A senior administration official told reporters last week that Trump is looking for more in-depth conversations about the future of North Korea if they do indeed commit to full and final denuclearization of North Korea.

But so far, what we have seen is that the president has actually used flattery to try and push forward such an agreement, not necessarily specifics. We also know that Trump described Kim Jong-un as someone who has been raised by a wealthy family, a powerful family, and Trump said that most people he knows in those situations don't turn out so well, they're pretty messed up.

But he said Kim Jong-un wasn't one of those folks. So is it going to be flattery again in this summit, or is it going to be specifics? Trump has already kind of lowered the bar for expectations in saying, we are happy if there's no testing, indicating that steps on denuclearization may not happen imminently right after this meeting. There might be more.

BALDWIN: Wow. That's stunning, especially given the atrocities that have been committed in North Korea.

Kylie Atwood with some excellent color, Kylie, thank you so much in Hanoi.

William Tobey is the former deputy administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration.

And so, Will, thank you so much for being here.

WILLIAM TOBEY, FORMER DEPUTY ADMINISTRATOR, NATIONAL NUCLEAR SECURITY ADMINISTRATION: Thank you.

BALDWIN: Earlier this month, you were quoted as saying that North Korea has an advantage if they deal directly with Trump, because, your words, "If they can keep the discussion with Trump at the conceptual level, they have a much better chance of getting what they want."

And then you went on to say that both U.S. and American allies could be vulnerable. How do you mean?

TOBEY: Well, Kim Jong-un is seeking political and economic concessions.

And the sorts of things that he needs to get them can be described in broad terms. An end to the Korean War would be one example, because if such a peace is declared, then the rationale for the web of sanctions that strangle North Korea now will be removed, and they can make the argument that nations should be trading freely with them and should have diplomatic relations with them. And so they will gain some benefits.

The things that the president wants that entail denuclearization require detailed discussions of exactly what programs the North has, where they are, and how that would be verified.

BALDWIN: On the denuclearization point, last May, our own correspondent Will Ripley and a number of other journalists were in North Korea when the country appeared to have blown up tunnels and buildings and other parts of this nuclear test site Punggye-ri.

And the regime said the journalists' presence would offer transparency, but no weapons experts or inspectors were invited. So do you think that that site was actually destroyed, or was the whole thing just a dog and pony show?

[15:20:01]

TOBEY: Well, if you made me guess, I would say that the most likely state of affairs is the site was largely destroyed in the last North Korean nuclear test.

BALDWIN: Huh.

TOBEY: And so blowing up the entrance to the tunnel was mainly for show. And I don't think that they actually accomplished anything toward denuclearization by it.

BALDWIN: What about -- a second ago, we played sort of the evolution of this relationship between Trump and Kim, and Trump now more recently touts these letters that he's received from the North Korean dictator, saying that they're just one of a multitude of signs of progress and a good relationship.

But "The Washington Post" recently wrote the following -- quote -- "Former U.S. diplomats scoffed at the idea that Kim's letters are a sign of increasing personal trust and meaningful progress. Rather, they suggested Kim has sized up his mark and showered the president with flattery to soften him up at the negotiating table."

Do you think that those ex-diplomats, William, are correct in that assessment?

TOBEY: Well, I think careful and professional diplomats don't place a lot of stock in trust between nations.

They assess intentions and capabilities and try and create the right incentives for an outcome that advances their own country's national interests.

BALDWIN: What does that mean?

TOBEY: It's not really a matter of personal -- it's not a matter of personal trust. It's a matter of whether or not we can trust the North to do what we want them to do.

BALDWIN: Can we?

TOBEY: I'm highly doubtful.

I think the North Korean national interest is to retain its nuclear weapons stockpile and to retain its fissile material production capabilities, and they would like to evade sanctions and get a declaration ending the Korean War that would advance their economic interests.

BALDWIN: William Tobey, thank you so much for your expertise. Good to have you on.

Coming up next here, at least three Republican senators are coming out publicly saying they plan to vote against the president's national emergency declaration. And my next guest says the fact there aren't more is just one example of -- quote -- "the normalization of Trumpism." We will have him explain.

And right now, accused Russian spy Maria Butina is back in federal court. Will the Russian native serve time here in a U.S. prison or be deported to Russia?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:27:11]

BALDWIN: Another Republican senator just joined the fight to overturn President Trump's national emergency declaration at the U.S.-Mexico border. Alaska's Lisa Murkowski is now the third senator who says she will vote against the president.

The Democratic-controlled House is expected to pass the resolution in just a few hours here, and then the Senate gets its turn. And that could prove to be a major test for Senate Republicans.

Here is Senator Murkowski and Maine Senator Susan Collins.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R), MAINE: The president's action is of dubious constitutionality that likely violates the separation of powers. If it's a clean disapproval resolution, I will support it.

SEN. LISA MURKOWSKI (R), ALASKA: I think it's so important that there be clear lines when it comes to the separation of powers, the institution of the Congress as that appropriating branch. There's going to be a great deal of debate as to whether or not the legal authority is there.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: Moments ago, even Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said that he is still weighing the legality.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION: Mr. Leader, do you personally believe that the president's emergency declaration is legal?

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: Well, that's part of what we were discussing today.

QUESTION: What do you think?

MCCONNELL: Well, we're in the process of weighing that. The lawyer was there to make his arguments. There were some counterarguments. I haven't reached a total conclusion about -- I wouldn't go to me for a simple will. I did go to law school.

But we had some real serious lawyers in there discussing that very issue.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: My next guest argues that the president's declaration has been a -- quote, unquote -- "antithetical" to -- has been antithetical to conservatism. He's Matt Lewis. He's got a new column at The Daily Beast and it's called, "We Have Finally Normalized Trumpism." And the zinger line at the end is this: "They say you never stand so

tall as when you stoop to" -- can I say this on CNN? -- "kiss someone's ass. If this is true, then Trump is surrounded by giants."

Matt Lewis with the zinger, he's here with me today.

Good to have you back, Matt.

I mean, that's quite a statement. Can you tell me what you mean?

MATT LEWIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Right.

So, that's -- in writing columns, if you have a good lead, the opening, and a good kicker, the ending, then you have got a good column.

BALDWIN: Congratulations.

LEWIS: So, I think I succeed there.

(LAUGHTER)

LEWIS: No, look, there's a real conundrum I think that Republicans have.

Like, let's look at Lindsey Graham as an example.

BALDWIN: Sure.

LEWIS: You have the choice to kind of stand up and be brave and tell the truth about Donald Trump, in the case of the emergency order, that it's not constitutional, it's not appropriate, that it's the same thing that Republicans and conservatives attacked Barack Obama for doing, for overstepping his authority.

You can either have influence, or you can have your dignity and your integrity.