Return to Transcripts main page


Cohen Testifies on Capitol Hill; Interview with Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA); Trump to Watch Cohen Testimony; Trump and Kim Second Summit. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired February 26, 2019 - 13:00   ET


[13:00:00] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks for joining us today on INSIDE POLITICS. Have a great afternoon.

Brianna Keilar starts right now.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Brianna Keilar, live from CNN's Washington headquarters.

Underway right now, he once said he'd take a bullet for the president. Today, Michael Cohen is taking a seat before Congress to reveal all.

Halfway around the world, we're now learning about the all-nighter the president will pull during his summit with Kim Jong-un.

Plus, as the House gets ready to vote on the president's emergency declaration, in the Senate more Republicans say they're siding with Democrats.

And I'll speak with someone who was there when Jorge Ramos called from the Venezuelan presidential palace as he and his Univision crew were detained during an interview with the country's embattled president.

We begin with the Michael Cohen triple header on Capitol Hill. Right now, President Trump's former personal attorney and fixer is testifying behind closed doors before the Senate Intelligence Committee. Cohen's appearance today kicks off three days of testimony, and today's hearing will be followed by public testimony tomorrow before the House Oversight Committee and another closed door hearing before the House Intelligence Committee on Thursday. Sources say that Cohen is expected to testify about Trump's role in some of the crimes that Cohen pleaded guilty to last year.

We have reporter Kara Scannell with us here.

What else are you expecting from this, Kara?

KARA SCANNELL, CNN REPORTER: Well, I mean, I think it's going to be so fascinating, right, Brianna.


SCANNELL: We're going to have Michael Cohen kind of tell his inside story of what it was like working at the Trump Organization. He's been Donald Trump's personal attorney for ten years. So, you know, a source who is familiar with the preparation of Michael Cohen's testimony has told our Gloria Borger that, you know, he's going to talk about Trump's role in some of the criminal activities that Cohen's admitted he committed to. I mean that includes these hush money payments that he says he paid, you know, at the direction of Donald Trump. So, what does Michael Cohen tell us about that? We could learn some new information there. And I think that's going to be something that the Democrats are going to be pressing him for because they're going to want to look for evidence, and it will also be something that I think the Republicans will really hit him hard on, on, how does he back this up? So that's one of the elements.

And then we also know that Michael Cohen is, you know, expected to talk about what Donald Trump's business dealings were during the campaign. And one of those issues is Trump Tower Moscow. You know, those communications continue to try to build this Trump Tower in Moscow during the campaign. Michael Cohen's already admitted that he lied to the Senate about that when he testified there.

And, you know, we're also told that Cohen is going to bring documents with him. You know, which -- what are these documents? What do they prove or not prove? You know, it's really an issue that we'll see play out tomorrow. Michael Cohen's credibility will be on the line, you know, as well as kind of the first opportunity we're really going to hear from him to not only tell his version of the story but be quizzed about it. So, you know, what additional information details come out of this I think is something that we're all going to be looking for.

KEILAR: And the documents that will back him up will certainly be interesting.

Kara Scannell, thank you so much for that.

Democratic Congresswoman Jackie Speier of California is one of the lawmakers who will get to question Michael Cohen. She's with us now from Capitol Hill.

And you actually are going to have two chances with two of the committees, one public, one behind closed doors. What do you -- what are the pressing questions? What are the most pressing questions, since you will have some limited time, that you want to ask Michael Cohen?

REP. JACKIE SPEIER (D), CALIFORNIA: Well, at the first hearing, at the -- that will be public, I'm going to ask about the kinds of business dealings that Michael Cohen was engaged in with Donald Trump, the entrepreneur, because I think what we're going to find out, it wasn't just the hush payments to two women that would have impacted his campaign. I think we're going to find out that there were many dealings that the then entrepreneur was engaged in that will have violated the law, and that's what I'm going to focus on.

KEILAR: So sources tell CNN that Cohen is expected to discuss President Trump's role in some of the crimes that Cohen pleaded guilty to. That's something you just said is of interest to you, but is there anything specifically that you are looking for there? SPEIER: Well, I'm very concerned about the engagement that Michael

Cohen had with Felix Sater as it related to the Trump Tower Moscow. That becomes pivotal in why Donald Trump was so interested in the bromance with Vladimir Putin.

We've got to remember that for Donald Trump it's all about money, making money and about his ego. And in both those situations, making money in Trump Tower Moscow and having the largest building in all of Europe plays to both of those interests.

KEILAR: Are you going to be asking him questions about other people inside of the Trump Organization? Are you expecting that he's going to be naming names and answering those questions?

SPEIER: You know, he's a reformed alcoholic, almost. So I think he's going to be pretty pure in terms of his responses. And I think there will be people that may be implicated as a result of his testimony. And, frankly, that's what this is all about. If there's criminal conduct going on in the Trump Organization, then the American people and certainly Congress has a right to know, and we have a right to evaluate that and see whether it's an impeachable offense.

[13:05:19] KEILAR: It's interesting to hear you say that. You say you feel like he's going to be pretty pure, like he's a reformed alcoholic? Republicans are going to say this is someone who's lied to Congress before. They're already saying that. The White House is saying that this is a liar. So why would you put such stock in Michael Cohen? Just explain to us why.

SPEIER: So, first of all, let's point out that he lied to Congress because he was lying on behalf of Donald Trump. And if you look at Trump's inner circle, it's almost a prerequisite to go to work for him that you be a liar, willing to put your name on the line to protect Donald Trump. So that is part of who he is and how he runs his operation. So I think what we're going to find out is that Michael Cohen is not the only one who has lied.

KEILAR: Some Democrats, not yourself, but they've said they don't expect any blockbuster revelations from Cohen. You told Axios that Cohen, quote, unquote, could be the John Dean of the Watergate crime. Why do you think that?

SPEIER: Well, I think because he is going to have very intimate information, that he is going to be very willing to share, much like John Dean did during the Watergate hearings. They're both attorneys. There's both tapes involved in these situations. I mean I think listening to these tapes will be very edifying moving forward as well.

KEILAR: Listening to the tapes that -- the recordings that he may have?

SPEIER: Yes, Michael Cohen taped many conversations with Donald Trump. We only have heard about the ones associated with the hush payments for Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal. So I am confident that we're probably going to be listening to other tapes at some point that will shed more light on how Donald Trump, the businessman, skirted the law. KEILAR: And have you been -- I'm just wondering. I know you expect

that. Have you been told that? Have you been informed of that, by chance, that there will be some tapes at this point or some point moving forward, or that's just your expectation?

SPEIER: Well, it's my expectation because much like the Department of Justice made available all the data and information they had on Hillary Clinton, and the e-mail fiasco that we went through for so many months, I think they have set a precedent. So they're going to have to reveal to us, certainly in the HIC (ph) committee, the Intelligence Committee, all of the data they have and documents they have relative to their investigation, which would include more tapes from Michael Cohen.

KEILAR: And, we will see. I know that's your expectation. I just want to make it clear that that's certainly your point of view and that could be a battle that we see opening up.

SPEIER: That's correct.

KEILAR: So you're going to have, during this testimony from Michael Cohen, kind of a split screen effect. He's going to be testifying. The president is at this summit in Vietnam where he's meeting North Korea's Kim Jong-un, so high profile.

Listen to what his son, Donald Trump Junior, said about all of this on Fox News.


DONALD TRUMP JUNIOR, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S SON: You've got a president trying to deal with, you know, a major world issue, and to try to, you know, distract or whatever it is by bringing in a convicted felon and known liar, I mean it's pretty pathetic.


KEILAR: What -- what do you say to that? What do you say to an argument from folks in Donald Trump's corner, or even just from the Republican side, who say that this hearing undermines U.S. foreign policy objectives?

SPEIER: Oh, I think that's laughable. I think, if anything, what we have found from President Trump is that he has created national security crises over and over again.

I've just returned from NATO and from the Munich Security Conference, and I can tell you, our allies are very troubled by the relationship that has been created in the last two years.

So the fact that he is going off to meet in Vietnam with Chairman Kim has, I think, much more to do with him trying to enhance his chances of getting a Nobel Peace Prize. Again, it's all about ego or money with Donald Trump.

KEILAR: All right, Congresswoman Jackie Speier, thank you so much for being with us.

I want to discuss this now with our -- about the legal implications, the political implications of Michael Cohen's testimony. We have former Justice Department prosecutor Joseph Moreno here with us, along with our chief political analyst Gloria Borger.

So, first off, you've been talking to your sources and what are they saying that Michael Cohen is going to reveal?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: He's going to leave a narrative that's going to be very personal. Not surprisingly. It's going to be an unflattering portrait of Donald Trump that my source says is going to detail the lies and the cheating of Donald Trump.

My source says that Michael Cohen does have some financial documents. I do not know what they are. I was told he does not have Donald Trump's tax returns, so it's very hard to kind of know whether these financial documents are actually worth anything or not worth anything.

[13:10:15] But he's going to talk about the president of the United States as a candidate and how, according to my source, he was deceitful to the American people. He's going to explain his own change of heart towards Donald Trump, which came July 2nd on 2018. He's going to describe in detail those - that hush money payment for the -- for the mistresses and how that worked.

I could not verify anything about whether, in lying to Congress, he's going to detail whether the president was indeed very involved in Michael Cohen's decision to lie to Congress. But I do believe he will shed some light on who he was talking to about his testimony to Congress.

KEILAR: But he -- he could talk about that, right, presumably? So will he go that far?

BORGER: Yes, absolutely. Absolutely. But I think, you know, honestly, I think they don't want to give away -- they don't want to give away their whole story.

KEILAR: They don't want to give away too much.

BORGER: Would you expect, Joe, that -- I mean I would expect this -- that he'll be asked about whether or not he has discussed with the president or with anyone around the president the possibility of a pardon? And what would that mean if he talks about that?

JOSEPH MORENO, FORMER JUSTICE DEPARTMENT PROSECUTOR: That's a great question. I mean this is an -- this is an issue on everyone's mind.


MORENO: And it was -- I mean, I think, again, one of the shining moments of Bill Barr's confirmation hearing when he -- when he conceded very emphatically, without any kind of caveats, dangling a pardon in exchange for someone to be silent or to change their testimony would be illegal. So I think, yes, that would be front and center. I would it would be malpractice if Congress does not ask that question.

KEILAR: Well, I -- yes, there were some -- I will say, there have been questions at times during some of this where the questions have not been incredibly specific and actually some folks from what -- you know, from sort of Joe's fear would say, oh, why wasn't that asked?

BORGER: Well, you know, and we've reported that at a certain point, you know, Michael Cohen did expect a pardon from the president. And there was a point, and maybe we'll learn this tomorrow, where it became, I think, very clear to Cohen that that was not going to happen. And that may have a lot to do with his change of heart. You know, he said, I'm not going to be the villain in all of this, and we'll learn -- we'll learn why he said that.

KEILAR: We know what Republicans who are in Donald Trump's corner, we know what the White House is going to say here. They're going to say, look, this is a liar, right?

BORGER. Right.

KEILAR: This is the statement that has come from Sarah Sanders. Disgraceful 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.

You just heard Congresswoman Jackie Speier, Joe, say, he's like a reformed alcoholic. He's going to be pure in what he says. And he -- her argument was, he lied for Donald Trump. So now that he's no longer obviously linked to Donald Trump like that, looking out for that allegiance to Donald Trump, you can take him at his word. I wonder what you think about that, what you would do if you had a client or a witness who had these credibility issues.

MORENO: So pure might be a little bit of a stretch --


MORENO: Because he is an admitted, convicted liar. But that being said, the motive to lie is gone, right? There is no reason for him. In fact, he has every reason to be completely truthful because he can get in more trouble if he's caught in more lies. So I always look to motive and so I see no reason why he would obfuscate, hold back or otherwise lie about anything he's asked.

So, no, I think that for what it's worth, what we hear from him is probably, you know, the best we're going to get from him.

BORGER: Can I just add one thing. This's a little pot calling the kettle black here. I mean this is a president of the United States who's not known for his affiliation with the truth.


BORGER: And so it's interesting to me that Sarah Sanders says, well, you can't believe Michael Cohen because he's a liar. Well, how many times have we documented that the president of the United States has not told the truth? Very high.

MORENO: Put very politely, by the way.


BORGER: Put very politely.

MORENO: Yes, very tactfully.

BORGER: Thank you very much.

KEILAR: More than -- up in the thousand area --


KEILAR: According to "The Washington Post."

BORGER: So, pot/kettle.


All right, Gloria Borger, Joe Moreno, thank you so much to both of you.

The summit sequel. The president arriving in Vietnam ahead of his highly anticipated summit with Kim Jong-un. We have new reporting on their relationship.

Plus, just hours from now, the House votes on the president's emergency declaration as some Republican Senators say they'll vote against the president.

And Jorge Ramos and his Univision crew in the middle of an interview with Venezuela's embattled president when suddenly their equipment is confiscated and they are detained. Hear what happened next.


[13:19:05] KEILAR: Well, the stage is set for act two of the U.S.- North Korea summit. A big entrance for both President Trump and North Korean Leader Kim Jong-un as the leaders arrived in Vietnam to flashing cameras and red carpets. And the two won't actually see each other until tomorrow.

Michael Allen was a former senior director on the National Security Council in the George W. Bush White House. He's currently managing director of Beacon Global Strategies.

So what is your expectation for this summit?

MICHAEL ALLEN, FORMER SENIOR DIRECTOR, NSC UNDER BUSH 43: Well, this is a big moment. Of course, the president is betting that a young North Korean leader who sees 40 to 50 years of rule may -- may -- be in a position to accept some denuclearization in exchange for economic aid.

So that's the big issue here. It's kind of like a business deal. We want to buy something that they have. We want to get a good price for it. And they do, too. And so it's all going to be about who can get the best deal.

[13:20:03] KEILAR: But if you look at what happened from the last summit, right, you have their nuclear and their ballistic missile sites that will remain active. Some appear to have actually expanded. That's what the intel is showing since the last summit.

ALLEN: Right.

KEILAR: What's the reality of being able to achieve something when the North Koreans have really rebuffed President Trump at his last requests?

ALLEN: So I think all of us are very skeptical and very pessimistic that the North Koreans will actually go down a path of denuclearization. But the thing is, is we've got to try because the other options are even less palatable to us. We really don't want them to be or become a nuclear power.

So we're going to try. And I know Steve Biegun and Mike Pompeo and the president are going to try and change the incentives for the North Korean leader so that he makes a different choice for his country to be more of a South Korean type economy or even Vietnam, instead of where they are now, which is a rogue regime with a pitiful economy.

KEILAR: Our reporter, Kylie Atwood, has reported that, at the last meeting, Kim Jong-un asked President Trump if he trusted him. And President Trump said that he did. But he also said that he needed to trust him if they were going to forge a deal together. What do you -- what do you make of that?

ALLEN: Well, it's a little odd. I mean they don't know each other that well. And the North Koreans are not known for being trustworthy or reliable. But I guess there wasn't anything better to say in that kind of moment.

But, look, when it comes down to it, as everybody says with regard to North Korea, we are going to have to verify whatever commitments they make. We've got to get good inspectors on the ground and to check everything out because chances are they're going to lie and cheat and we've got to hold them to account.

KEILAR: What do you think the possibility of getting inspectors on the ground is?

ALLEN: So in --

KEILAR: How far away is the U.S. from that kind of agreement, do you think?

ALLEN: Well, it's possible to get it. I remember in the late Bush administration we got some IAEA inspectors back in there on the ground, but the question was, what could they do? Could they sample the ground? Could they sample the air? Could they do sort of unannounced inspections? In many cases, they were constrained considerably back then. And so if we got to that point again this year, I would expect that the North Koreans would ring (ph) fence them.

KEILAR: So, I wonder what you think as someone who has been involved in -- you're -- well, you're very familiar with negotiations and what they entail, especially for a principal like the president. And the president, according to our reporting, is planning, because the Michael Cohen testimony does take place sort of in the middle of this summit, to watch it. Well, it's in the middle of the night, if you're looking at local time in Vietnam.

ALLEN: Right.

KEILAR: What is that going to mean?

ALLEN: Well, real must-see TV.

I -- you know, I think it's going to be a little strange. It occurred to me that, you know, we wanted to keep the North Koreans overnight, sort of a two-day summit, because I bet they want to use that night to negotiate a communique. And so I think it will be a little strange if the president is up tweeting down the hall, and the staff is working on a document about commitments. But, you know, maybe that's the formula that needs to work here because we've tried bottom-up negotiations for a long time and it hasn't worked. And the theory of the case here is, let's go leader to leader, let's get a meeting of the minds, and then our underlings will sort of put it all to paper. So let's see if that works.

KEILAR: So you -- you don't actually sound too concerned if he's in -- if he's paying attention to this in the middle of the night, that this is going to distract him or anything? That to --

ALLEN: Well, I do think it is a distracting thing, of course. This is going to be huge television. But at the same time, he's got negotiators, he's got experts. Steve Biegun, who is our envoy on these matters --

KEILAR: Who you know.

ALLEN: Who -- yes, I do know him from a previous life -- and others are -- support and work for him. A huge cadre of experts. So I'm not as worried about that. I think the president's got to work on his personal rapport with the leader. He's got to know what his goals are going in because if you want a deal badly enough, you're going to get a bad deal. So we need to make sure that we are tough on angle for the right things.

KEILAR: That is a very good point.

Michael Allen, thank you so much.

ALLEN: Thank you. KEILAR: We really appreciate you being here with us.

ALLEN: You bet.

KEILAR: And I want to get now to CNN's Kylie Atwood. She is live in Vietnam following this summit.

And you have some very interesting reporting about this relationship. We just heard Michael Allen talk about how important their rapport is, that this should really be the main objective for President Trump in this summit.

What can you tell us, Kylie?

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: Well, Brianna, before Trump left for his first summit with Kim Jong-un last year, he told reporters that it would take him about a minute to assess what he thought of the chemistry between he and Kim Jong-un during their first meeting. And he was asked about that when he met with Kim Jong-un in Singapore. Kim Jong-un had heard, and he said, listen, I know it only takes you a minute to decide how you feel about someone. What's your assessment of me? Trump said back that actually it only takes him a few seconds, and he added that he thinks that Kim Jong-un is a little bit sneaky, but not too sneaky. Kim Jong-un then followed up with the key question, which was, do you trust me?

[13:25:31] And that's the key question here, because as you know, Brianna, the U.S. has been in negotiations with North Korea in the past, but there has been no formal final agreement on denuclearization because North Korea hasn't lived up to commitments. But President Trump told Kim Jong-un that, yes, he does trust him.

And displaying some quick wit, then Kim Jong-un turned to National Security Adviser John Bolton, who has been known for not being fully in support of this diplomatic approach to denuclearization of North Korea. And he asked him the same question, saying, do you trust me? John Bolton told the North Korean later, if Trump trusts you, then I do as well.

We're also hearing some more details about the compliments that Trump offered to Kim Jong-un during that Singapore Summit. Trump told Kim Jong-un, listen, I know people that have been raised with wealth, have been raised with power and they've turned out a little bit messed up. But he told Kim that he did not think he was one of those people, essentially saying that he is a powerful and successful leader. A really interesting element there given that Kim Jong-un is known to have been someone who demanded the killing of his half-brother. North Korea is also egregious when it comes to human rights. They have hundreds of thousands of prisoners in labor camps.

So it's going to be interesting to see if Trump carries along this same path here in Hanoi when he meets with Kim Jong-un. Their first meeting will be tomorrow evening. They'll meet for 20 minutes one on one. And what's he going to say? Is it going to be more support and more flowery praises, or are they really going to get down to the details of denuclearization? KEILAR: Yes, flattery will get you everywhere, but will it get you to

denuclearization? Amazing reporting there, Kylie Atwood, thank you so much for those details.

And just a short time from now, the House will vote on the president's national emergency declaration. But some Senate Republicans are set to follow Democrats, which means the White House suddenly has a math problem.

Plus, just a week after Bernie Sanders launched his 2020 campaign, several top aides are now splitting with Sanders.