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Cohen Apologized to Intel Committee for Previous Lies; Trump Ally GOP Rep. Matt Gaetz Threatens Cohen on Twitter ahead of Testimony; Trump Expected to Flatter Kim at Summit; Interview with Sen. Chris Coons (D), Delaware. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired February 26, 2019 - 17:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: All right, Bill Weir, thank you so much as always for that great report.

Our coverage on CNN continues right now. Thanks so much for watching.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST (voice-over): Happening now: breaking news, a very different guy. Michael Cohen gets what lawmakers call an extensive grilling behind closed doors. Sources say Cohen apologized for lies he told with previous testimony.

Now that he's headed to jail, will he reveal Donald Trump's role in his crimes?

We are standing by to hear from senators.

Trump's trust: The president is halfway around the world getting ready for a second summit with Kim Jong-un. CNN learned he voiced trust in the dictator at their first meeting and is expected to flatter him again.

Will it work?

Little Kim's influence: Jong-un's little sister is a trusted adviser and a powerful force in his regime.

Does her softer public image conceal a brutal side and what's her role at the summit?

Staying in jail: the woman accused of being a Russian agent has been cooperating with federal investigators since pleading guilty to conspiracy.

Why is she being forced to remain in jail?

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Breaking news, President Trump's former fixer Michael Cohen is getting what one lawmakers calls an extensive grilling by the Senate Intelligence Committee. It is the first of three congressional hearings. Senator Susan Collins says Cohen is a "very different guy" than the last time he appeared.

Sources say Cohen apologized to the committee for lies he told then. Cohen is expected to reveal Donald Trump's role in some of his crimes. Tomorrow he'll testify publicly before a House committee and the president is expected to stay up overnight to watch.

Also the House of Representatives is about to vote disapproval of Trump's national emergency declaration as more Senate Republicans start to side with Democrats at the same time. I'll speak with Senator Chris Coons and our correspondents will have full coverage of the day's top stories.

Let's go to Capitol Hill and Manu Raju.

Manu, Cohen lied during his previous testimony.

What are you learning he is telling lawmakers behind closed doors today?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: In his classified hearing, Michael Cohen did talk about those lies that he delivered to this committee back in 2017 about those conversations that he had with the president about the Trump Tower project.

Back then he significantly downplayed what happened and suggested it ended in January of 2016. Well, it turns out he talked much longer and had much more extensive conversations that occurred until June of 2016. He admitted to lying to Congress about.

Behind closed doors, I am told he apologized for lying to this committee. He showed contrition and discussed the lies at length. There have been a number of questions about exactly the president's knowledge and involvement. Most members do not want to talk about it.

Kamala Harris leaving the committee but I had a chance to ask her about what happened earlier. She would not comment about what she heard but she did say yes, she learned something new from this closed door hearing that is going for more than seven hours.

We do expect Cohen to talk publicly and privately about his allegation that the president was aware of or involved with crimes that he was involved with himself. The question is, does he have any and how much corroborating evidence is he providing to lawmakers right now?

The White House dismissing this, saying he is a convicted liar, so he should not be trusted or given a platform. A number of members from both parties suggesting he has been a credible witness so far. This has been a professional back and forth by the staff members and the Senate Intelligence Committee as well as Cohen. It's been going on all day long. We'll see how more members react. They're just breaking up for a vote right now, but this hearing expected to go on for a little bit longer before he goes to the House Oversight Committee tomorrow and a closed setting for the House Intelligence Committee on Thursday.

BLITZER: The hearing today convened at 9:30 am. They've been there all day and you say there's more to go.


BLITZER: Do we know what kind of evidence Cohen is bringing with him to this hearing?

We know he recorded phone conversations. He has documents.

Do we know what he is bringing?

RAJU: We don't flow the specifics of that yet. We are getting indications that he is prepared to bring some documentary evidence showing the president was aware of crimes that Cohen and others will be alleged that the president was involved in.

Whether it is the hush money payments that occurred 2016 to silence the Trump affairs, we expect it to be a key area of focus in the testimony tomorrow. What exactly Cohen shows to detail the president's knowledge and involvement right before the election, that remains to be seen.

We do expect to see something to that regard. Also, Jackie Speier, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, said earlier today she expects to hear more tapes of the president on tape talking to Michael Cohen. It is unclear what she is referring to, given that we have heard the president on tape discussing that hush money payment. That's another question. But that may be something they may discuss behind closed doors on Thursday.

The big question for some of these members, how much corroborating evidence does Cohen have, given that he did lie and he has apologized. He lied also to the House Intelligence, what does he have to back up his claims? That will be a big question tomorrow.

BLITZER: So one of the president's most ardent supporters in the House of Representatives, Congressman Matt Gaetz of Florida, he just tweeted this. Let's put it up on the screen.

"Hey, Michael Cohen. Do your wife and father-in-law know about your girlfriends?

"Maybe tonight would be a good time for that chat. I wonder if she will remain faithful when you're in prison. She's about to learn a lot."

That sounds like a significant threat that this Republican congressman is now delivering directly to Michael Cohen via Twitter. RAJU: It's a pretty remarkable tweet. It comes after there have been concerns raised by the Cohen camp that the president himself has threatened his family, threatened and engaged in witness intimidation.

Does this also lead to the same concern, that there is intimidation that is occurring before Cohen's testimony tomorrow?

Matt Gaetz is not on the House Oversight Committee. But he is very close to a number of members on the committee, even the ranking Republican. We don't know what Jim Jordan's reaction is to this tweet yet and whether or not he believes Republicans should go down this line of questioning that Gaetz has spoken to the president. He speaks to him somewhat frequently.

After Matt Gaetz did not appear at the House Judiciary Committee, hearing what Matt Whitaker, the then acting attorney general, Trump called him up afterwards and asked him why he didn't attend the hearing. So the president and Matt Gaetz have spoken.

Whether they spoke about this tweet, who flows. We don't know that yet. We don't know what he is referring to. But a pretty remarkable threat of potential witness intimidation by a member who has some influence with other Republicans on this committee. We will see if they decide to go down this line of questioning in tomorrow's meeting.

BLITZER: We have no idea what Matt Gaetz is tweeting, these allegations are true, untrue. But you point out witness intimidation, like they're going after Michael Cohen in advance of this public testimony tomorrow.

RAJU: You recall this is why the House Oversight Committee hearing was initially delayed from earlier this month. Cohen was supposed to be there talking a couple of weeks ago. But after the president and Rudy Giuliani raised his father-in-law, made baseless allegations that he was engaged in crimes dating tied to Ukraine and the mob, as Giuliani suggested there a weekend talk show, that led to the cancellation of that initial testimony.

They have ultimately agreed to come back.

Will allegations like this affect comments like this Matt Gaetz is making, affect what Cohen --


RAJU: --plans to do tomorrow?

We don't know that yet. Cohen will be behind closed doors. We'll see if he wants to respond to any of these. We'll see also if the Republicans do decide to go down this line of questioning. Matt Gaetz is not a member of this committee but he does have friends on this committee and Republicans are already complaining this will be a circus-like atmosphere.

BLITZER: It is pretty shocking when you think about these late breaking developments. We'll have more on the reaction that's coming in. Manu, thank you very, very much.

The president is preparing now for a summit with Kim Jong-un. Let's get to our CNN chief correspondent, Jim Acosta.

What is the latest?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: President Trump will be meeting with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un in about 12 hours from now. The president is still hoping for that breakthrough he couldn't achieve the last time the two leaders met, the kind of deal that makes sure that North Korea gives up its nuclear weapons.

But the president has other worries on his mind back home, as you just mentioned, his long-time fixer, Michael Cohen, is due to take the hearing table at that hearing tomorrow in front of the cameras. It will be a major moment in the Russia investigation, one that the president will be watching.


ACOSTA (voice-over): Finally, their sequel has arrived, with President Trump landing in Vietnam hours after Kim Jong-un settled into his hotel before they meet for a high stakes summit. The president will be caught in a different split screen as his one time personal lawyer and now nemesis, Michael Cohen, testifies on Capitol Hill, telling lawmakers what he knows about Trump's business dealings with the Russians and his payoff to porn star Stormy Daniels.

Out of Cohen's hearing, the White House is using the kind of rhetoric reserved for Kim Jong-un with Sarah Sanders saying in a 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.

MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER TRUMP ATTORNEY: He is going to be an amazing president.

ACOSTA (voice-over): And the RNC is attacking Cohen's credibility, telling him to enjoy life behind bars.

COHEN: I have never come across a situation when Mr. Trump has said something that's not accurate.

ACOSTA (voice-over): White House officials will be watching Cohen's testimony, looking for any openings to attack the president's former fixer. Mr. Trump is expected to view some of the bombshell hearing as it airs in the overnight hours in Vietnam.

The president wasn't showing any nervousness as he arrived in Hanoi, tweeting about the tremendous crowds showing so much love.

But the president has work to do with the North Koreans, who have yet to really agree to any kind of arrangement to give up their nuclear arsenal. That's despite the president's tweet after last year's summit with Kim Jong-un in Singapore. Mr. Trump declared there is no longer a nuclear threat from North Korea. It was a love affair, the president said, that was calling out for a second rendezvous.

TRUMP: And you know the interesting, when I did it -- and I was really being tough and so was he. We have a back and forth and then we fell in love, OK?

No. Really. He wrote me beautiful letters. And they are great letters. We fell in love.

ACOSTA (voice-over): The president is not feeling the love from Democrats, who are seeking to block his national emergency declaration at the border.

TRUMP: Will I veto it?

100 percent. 100 percent. I don't think it survives a veto. We have too many that want border security. I can't imagine it would but I will veto it, yes.

ACOSTA (voice-over): Democrats say the border emergency is more fiction than fact.

REP. HAKEEM JEFFRIES (D-N.Y.), MEMBER, JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: President Donald Trump has more stories than Harry Potter and all of them are make believe.


ACOSTA: And there are signs that Kim Jong-un is off to a rocky start already. The North Koreans kicked the American press out of the workspace set up at the hotel where the dictator is staying. The White House we should point out barely put up a fight before moving reporters to another hotel. The president will have to show more backbone than that if he plans to get any kind of agreement that finally results in the North Koreans giving up its nuclear arsenal.

And getting back to the Michael Cohen story that will be up on Capitol Hill, just about everywhere you look when you talk to sources close to the White House, people who are close to the president, just about everybody has negative things to say about Michael Cohen. They are trashing him left and right to soften up his standing before the American people before that very high provide hearing up on Capitol Hill.

BLITZER: Yes. It starts at 10:00 am Eastern which is 10:00 pm where you are. It will go on for several hours. Presumably the president will be watching. Jim Acosta, thank you.

Trump was full of praise for Kim at their first summit. He's expected to take the same approach this time.


BLITZER: Our national security reporter Kylie Atwood is joining us right now.

What are you learning about the president's plan to flatter Kim Jong- un?

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we're learning that Trump is going to continue using flatter as a strategy to pull Kim Jong-un into an agreement on denuclearization. Over the weekend President Trump described his relationship with Kim Jong-un as very, very good.

We have learned new details about how that flatter played out when the leaders sat face to face for the first time in Singapore.

Trump was asked, Do you trust me?

Trump said yes. He described Kim Jong-un as someone that was sort of sneaky but not too sneaky. Trump said he knows people that come from wealth and power and they ended up messed up. He said that Kim Jong- un is not one of those people, saying he's basically a successful leader. He continues to reap (sic) praise on this leader of North Korea. He is expected to do the same.

BLITZER: We'll stay in close touch with you. Thank you very much, Kylie Atwood.

Joining us now, Chris Coons now, Democratic senator of Delaware. He is a member of Judiciary and Foreign Relations Committees. I want to begin with Michael Cohen's trio of hearings on Capitol Hill today, tomorrow and Thursday.

What questions does Cohen need to answer?

SEN. CHRIS COONS (D), DEL.: I think it's important for the American people to hear from President Trump's long-time trusted personal attorney, whether or not Trump committed crimes or ordered him to commit criminal acts while he was either a candidate or president.

We recognize that Cohen lied in previous testimony. He has taken responsibility for that. He will be serving jail time for that. But he is able to testify and back it up with documents and whether that might have broken legal or ethical boundaries.

BLITZER: One of the president's closest allies in the House of Representatives, Republican congressman Matt Gaetz, he is already now threatening Cohen ahead of his testimony. It is a pretty shocking development. I'll put it up on the screen.

"Hey, Michael Cohen, do your wife and father-in-law know about your girlfriends?

Maybe tonight would be a good time for that chat. I wonder if she'll remain faithful when you're in prison. She is about to learn a lot."

That certainly sounds not only like a threat but like witness intimidation.

What do you think? COONS: It does. That's the sort of behavior that's sadly become normalized in the last two years. I think that would previously be considered shocking for a congressman to publicly engage in badgering of a witness in advance of their appearing in front of the House Oversight Committee. Badgering of the type that seems like it is out of a mob novel or TV show than it is conduct by a member of the House of Representatives.

BLITZER: Should there be consequences for this shocking ,ugly behavior by a member of the House of Representatives, to issue allegations like this in public in advance of a congressional hearing, where the witness is coming forward to try to provide significant information before the House Oversight Committee?

COONS: That is something I would leave to the House Oversight Committee and the House of Representatives to discipline one of their own. I do think that's the sort of behavior that lies well outside the boundaries of typical conduct here. If it were in a court of law, would arguably constitute witness intimidation.

BLITZER: Have you ever seen anything like this developing on the eve of testimony before Congress, where a member of Congress goes ahead and issues a threat like this suggesting she is about to learn a lot meaning maybe they have more sordid details?

COONS: You know, I keep being shocked. I keep thinking there's nothing that will shock me more about my time here, my service here. This tweet you've just put up is really things. That's the kind of smash mouth, full on combat between the parties and between folks that are loyalists to President Trump and folks perceived to be a threat to President Trump that has sadly become normalized in the last two years.

I was frankly struck by Sarah Sanders' comments as well. I understand Trump's supporters are going to try and do everything they can to defend him but we are at a stage here where we are trying to get to the bottom of his conduct as a candidate and in office and whether or not that crossed critical or legal ethical boundaries.


COONS: I hope everybody involved will remember the higher purpose that calls then to that hearing.

BLITZER: Congressman Gaetz' spokesperson was just asked about that tweet. She said the tweet speaks for itself. They're not walking away from it at all.

Michael Cohen did plead guilty to lying to Congress.

Does his lack of credibility present a serious problem?

COONS: I think everyone who is considering his testimony should keep in mind he has pled guilty to lying to Congress. My hunch is given his long and close relationship with the president and given that his role was as his attorney, he'll be able to provide backup or documentation, whether electronic or written for some of the allegations I suspect he may make tomorrow.

I do think once someone's been convicted of lying to Congress, that does weigh on the minds of those who are questioning him. In this particular case, his unique relationship with Trump, his real-time knowledge of what candidate Trump did or didn't order him to do in terms of payoffs or violations of election law or whether he encouraged him to take other actions.

That's all, as we lawyers say, relevant to understanding what sorts of conduct President Trump may have been engaged in as a candidate or in his private business matters.

BLITZER: The Cohen testimony before the House Oversight Committee tomorrow will take place in an open public session.

Do you think Cohen could say anything that could change how the American public feels about President Trump?

COONS: He might very well. I've long thought there's nothing more shocking that I'm going to hear or experience than the last two years and yet, day after day, things come forward that surprise me. It's entirely possible that Michael Cohen will testify to something tomorrow that we don't yet know.

Many of us are awaiting the outcome of the Mueller investigation. There have been a number of details in public documents where there's redactions or classified or secret deliberations going on. None of us know the full scope of what he's already testified to.

He has appeared in front of the House Intelligence Committee. He's going to appear in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee. Both of those are closed sessions. So I think Mr. Cohen would reserve for those sessions any particularly alarming allegations he might have about the president.

But we'll have to wait and see.

BLITZER: Let's talk about this summit between President Trump and Kim Jong-un.

What are your expectations for this second meeting?

COONS: I'll tell you, my hope is that he will come away from a second meeting with the dictator of North Korea with more substance. The remains of Americans who were killed in Korea were returned home to their families after the first summit. That's a positive thing. There haven't been more missile tests or nuclear weapons tests in recent months. That's a positive thing.

But North Korea has taken no significant, substantial steps to reveal to the United States of the world the nuclear arsenal and all of its facilities to begin an accounting that would lead to substantive denuclearization.

My concern is that President Trump hoping, for a big breakthrough or to change the subject from Michael Cohen's testimony, might offer something startling without consultation with our critical allies in Japan and South Korea.

It is obviously the long-term strategic goal of North Korea and China to get the United States off the Korean Peninsula to fully denuclearize, which in their view means getting the United States to withdraw our treaty commitments to South Korea's security.

I'm hopeful the president won't do anything sudden or abrupt in that field. I was at a security conference in Munich, where there were the leaders of dozens of other countries. Our president's very abrupt decision to withdraw our troops from Syria made without any consultation with our allies who had a troops in combat at that moment or with leaders in Congress, has set many people on edge as they look at this conference and anticipate what sorts of concessions President Trump might be willing to make in order to get a positive outcome in his view.

BLITZER: We have some more breaking news coming into THE SITUATION ROOM. Right now, your good friend from Delaware, the former Vice President Joe Biden, now says he is very close to a decision for running for the Democratic presidential nomination.

He says his family, after extensive conversations --


BLITZER: -- his family is now on board with a decision to go ahead and seek the nomination.

What's your reaction?

Do you believe he will in fact announce he's running for nomination?

COONS: I think that's great news. I don't know in the end if he will finally announce his candidacy or not but Joe Biden is someone who is relentlessly positive. He believes in the American people. He sees the challenges or the divisions in our society and he tries to help motivate us to overcome them.

He inspires people to get back up and to fight harder and to do more together. That's in sharp contrast to our president, who sees divisions in our society and seeks to exploit them, to crack them wider open.

I also think that because of the significant challenges that Vice President Biden has overcome in his life, he connects with working Americans who have had disappointments, who have had difficulties and also had to have hard conversations with their families about missed opportunities or lost jobs.

Something about his huge heart, his deep experience and his very positive attitude is very appealing to me. I think he would be a terrific candidate for the presidency.

BLITZER: He has said his big question mark was getting his family on board. They're now on board.

Will you endorse him?

COONS: Absolutely.

BLITZER: Senator Chris Coons of Delaware, looking ahead to a potential Joe Biden run for the White House. We'll see what happens. That's a significant development. Thank you very much for joining us.

COONS: Thank you.

BLITZER: Up next, we are standing by to hear from senators as they leave the Cohen hearing.

Did he reveal anything about Donald Trump's role in his crimes?


[17:31:01] BLITZER: We are standing by to hear from senators who have been hearing from President Trump's former personal attorney, Michael Cohen. He spent the day testifying before Senate Intelligence Committee behind closed doors. Tomorrow he'll testify before the House Oversight Committee. That will be public, open session. Cohen will tell his story all on camera tomorrow.

Let's bring in our political and legal experts. And, Laura, Laura Coates, and so we've got two Laura's here. Laura Coates, as we watch all of this unfold, a pretty outrageous Tweet coming in from one of the President's closest supporters, most ardent supporters up on Capitol Hill, Representative Matt Gaetz of Florida. He tweeted this. He said, "Hey, Michael Cohen, do your wife and father-in-law know about your girlfriends? Maybe tonight would be a good time for that chat. I wonder if she'll remain faithful when you're in prison. She is about to learn a lot."

You're a legal expert. Is that witness intimidation? He testifies as a witness tomorrow.

LAURA COATES, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Yes. It's also grossly inappropriate. But the criminal element, there is the idea you're knowingly influencing or trying to harass or trying to somehow influence testimony either to withhold information or to somehow influence the way it's presented.

Now, the idea of somebody doing this is really odd to me given the consequence of this, given the fact that you're very well versed at this point in time on what intimidation looks like. There have been discussions about the President's Tweets. He was in Twitter as a median to do so. This to me is a classic test, for example, someone saying, "Listen, I am going to try and to harass you."

Now, I haven't proposed physical violence. That's not the requirement. I haven't threatened you in some way. I haven't said, "If you don't do X, this will happen." But harassment is part of the witness intimidation statute. He's talking about, are you trying to somehow influence or withhold testimony. That's doing that exact thing. BLITZER: Because, Laura, you know, Laura Jarrett, this is - you know, it's pretty shocking. He is a member of the House of Representatives, he's a congressman, he is a lawyer and he is engaging in this kind of threatening behavior towards a witness who is about to testify under oath before the House Oversight Committee. Is Congressman Gaetz now in some sort of legal jeopardy as a result of what he has done?

LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, look, lawmakers enjoy certain immunities under the speech and debate claws. Maybe he could try to argue that he was taking place in the marketplace of ideas. At least he said that to at least one reporter. He is just making his argument. As you pointed out though, Wolf, remember who he is. This is one of the President's most ardent defenders. And it just shows you how much this hearing has really turned into a grudge match for people who want to defend the President instead of it being a truth- seeking function. So whether the Justice Department would actually prosecute this, I don't know.

But as Laura laid out, there is certainly a lot of questions to be raised about what he has done here and whether it meets the statutory definition given the bullying and harassment.

BLITZER: At a minimum, I would expect the democratic majority in the House of Representatives, Ryan, to open up some sort of House Ethics Committee investigation into this kind of behavior by a sitting member of Congress.

RYAN LIZZA, CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, ESQUIRE: Absolutely. You already - you see on Twitter, there are calls for the House Ethics Committee to look at this. Now, they operate in a bit of a black box, so we might not know for a long time.

But I would also expect the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, perhaps to weigh in on this. Gaetz has been controversial congressman for a long time. He famously brought a very disreputable person named Chuck Johnson to the State of the Union. And the ADL, the Anti- Defamation League, wrote him a letter complaining that this person was an extremist and a holocaust - dabbled in holocaust denial, and Gaetz had to deal with that.

So this is someone who is already operating sort of on the fringes of republican politics. So not shocking that this is the person that would send that disgusting Tweet.

BLITZER: He is one of the President's closest allies in the House of Representatives, Rebecca, you know. And it's obviously a very shocking development, you know, this kind of behavior from a sitting member of the House.

REBBECCA BUCK, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: That's right. Less shocking in the era of President Trump when you consider how the President has Tweeted about witnesses, how the President has Tweeted about his former associates, telling the truth about what happened.


He called Michael Cohen a rat for telling the truth about some of President Trump's actions during the campaign and in his business.

And so it's not beyond the realm of what we have seen from the President. Certainly he has set the tone for this sort of behavior. But it doesn't make it right. It doesn't make it - it doesn't make it dignified for a member of Congress to be trying to intimidate a witness coming forward to speak to Congress.

And, Ryan, you mentioned we will likely hear from Speaker Pelosi on this. I would not be surprised if we also heard from republican leaders in Congress and on the House Oversight Committee rejecting this sort of behavior.

LIZZA: You know, that's a great question. What does the Republican House Leadership, how do they respond to this? We saw how Nancy Pelosi dealt with a democrat who Tweeted something that everyone was outraged about recently. How do republicans respond to something like that?

BLITZER: Well, how do you think they will respond?

LIZZA: you know, I don't know. It's not --

BLITZER: The republican leader McCarthy, for example?

BLITZER: He - so far in the Trump era, republicans have been much more about being loyal to each other than, let's say, principled and trying to police their own. Democrats have taken a lot of pride recently in being principled and zero tolerance and policing their own. That has not been the way it has been on the republican side recently.

And I think you'll find lot of people who will be sympathetic to this kind of Tweet. You know, most republicans don't like Michael Cohen right now. They feel like he betrayed the President. And I would not be shocked if this just tolerated and everyone moves on to something they would --

BLITZER: Have you seen anything like this before on the eve of a witness coming before the House of Representatives getting a threat like this from a sitting member of Congress?

LIZZA: Never anything like this from a sitting member of Congress.

COATES: And by the way, his testimony has been postponed because he originally thought he felt threatened by the President's own attorney, Rudy Giuliani, that there was mention of his family. The President talked about his father-in-law. Perhaps that was a reason why Michael Cohen should take heed not to become a rat in some form or fashion, and it's been already postponed for that reason.

Also, we have seen something similar to this before. When Peter Strzok testified in front of Congress, there was mention about his affair with the then FBI Attorney Lisa Page talking about this very issue. And there was rebuke from both republicans and democrats about the idea of this really has no place in this discussion, not just because, well, it happened to have been true and they've admitted to an affair, but that salacious detail aside, they were focused on the overarching issue of whether there was corruption in the FBI.

So this derails in sorts what they are actually trying to investigate, which is campaign finance violations, whether the President of the United states directed somebody to actually commit that and whether or not there were other lies in the Trump Foundation among other things.

So this is kind of an unnecessary insertion of a salacious topic that really doesn't get him anywhere, in general, and that's why I think the republicans and democrats will have a bipartisan connection to say, look, we are here trying to have a public testimony of a voluntary witness who was not even subpoenaed. You're making it harder. Why?

BUCK: And, frankly, I don't think it serves the President's cause at all to do this sort of thing. Gaetz might think that he is helping the President by Tweeting this. But, in fact, if the President had nothing to hide, he should want Cohen to come and testify before Congress and answer their questions. This just makes it look like the President and his allies are extremely nervous about Cohen --

BLITZER: But they're very close allies, the President and Congressman Gaetz. Go ahead.

JARRETT: To Rebecca's point though, you would think that this wouldn't be in his interest. But The New York Times reported just last week in that long piece on obstruction of justice just how coordinated their effort has been and that both Congressman Gaetz and Congressman Jordan felt like the democrats were pistol whipping the President and hadn't done - the republicans hadn't done enough to push back. And it was actually quite strategic on their part to come up with ways to push back using the Clinton email investigation, using the Russia investigation as a method of attack. So it seems like it's no coincidence who this person is who is actually Tweeting his out.

BLITZER: All right. Guys, stay with us. There's a lot more developments unfolding right now.

Today, prosecutors said the accused Russian agent, Maria Butina, is cooperating with investigators. So why is she still in jail?


[17:44:03] BLITZER: The Vice Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Mark Warner, the top democrat on that committee has emerged. This hearing with Michael Cohen has been going on since 9:30 A.M. Eastern this morning for hours and hours, and it's still going on. But he emerged just moments ago and made this statement. Listen.


SEN. MARK WARNER (D), V.A.: And the only comment I'm going to make is that, two years ago, when this investigation started, I said it may be the most important thing I'm involved in in my public life in the Senate. And nothing that I've heard today disgraced [ph] me from that view.

REPORTER: Did the President commit any crime, sir?


BLITZER: The first significant statement from Senator Warner. We have a lot more on that coming up.

We are also following new developments in the government's case against Maria Butina. She is the gun rights activist who was just before she planned to leave the country last year and accused of acting as an unregistered agent for the Russians. She pleaded guilty to a conspiracy charge and has been cooperating with federal investigators.

Let's bring in our own Sara Murray. She is more learning details, new information. Sara, what are you learning?


SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, she was in court today. It was a very quick hearing, and prosecutors basically said she is still cooperating. They are not ready to move forward and sentence her. She's going to be still remaining in jail.

You know, we know prosecutors in D.C. have been trying to bring charges against her boyfriend, Paul Erickson. They have not done so yet in D.C. And in the meantime, you know, she's stuck waiting in a jail cell, Wolf.

BLITZER: Why has she been in jail all this time instead of being released on bail?

MURRAY: You know, it has been quite some time. She was arrested in and has been in jail since the summer of 2018, and prosecutors and the judge agreed -- they basically said, look, she could leave this courtroom.

She could get in a diplomatic vehicle. She's a Russian citizen. She could be whisked away, sent back to Russia, and there's nothing we can do about it. And so that's the issue here.

But, Wolf, when she is eventually sentenced, it's possible she will just be sentenced to time served. I mean, in the agreement, they sort of lay out the idea that since she pleaded guilty, she may just face six months in prison. She's now been there for upwards of seven months.

I actually spoke to her attorney briefly after this hearing today. And my understanding is that she was in tears afterward in hearing that she was going to have to still remain in prison and that prosecutors were not ready to move forward with the sentencing, Wolf.

BLITZER: And part of that time, she's been in solitary confinement.

MURRAY: That's right. She's not in solitary confinement anymore. She has a little bit more access to, you know, other people who are inmates as well as a priest. But, yes, I certainly think it's been a very jarring experience for this woman who is just 30 years old, Wolf.

BLITZER: I know you're staying on top of this story. Let us know what happens, Sara. Thank you very much.

Up next, she usually remains in the background, but analysts say, keep an eye on Kim Jong-un's younger sister during and after the Vietnam summit.


BLITZER: We're following the breaking news as Michael Cohen is getting ready to finish his first of three days of testimony before various congressional committees. One lawmaker is threatening Cohen on Twitter. All of this unfolding right now.

We're standing by to hear from members of the Senate Intelligence Committee. They're going to be leaving that room fairly soon, we're told. Michael Cohen and his attorneys, they're still inside. They've been inside for hours answering lots and lots of questions.

You just heard the Vice Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Senator Mark Warner of Virginia, say this has been incredibly important. All of this, what's going on this investigation, he says may be the most important thing he has done as a United States senator. Very significant words from him.

[17:50:01] As soon as we get more on what happened behind closed doors, we'll share that with you, our viewers. In the meantime, President Trump is in Hanoi right now. He's getting ready to meet with the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un.

Amidst all of this, the dictator's younger sister has emerged as a very powerful figure in the regime. And she clearly is playing a significant role at the summit.

Brian Todd has been looking into this part of the story for us. Brian, what are you learning?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we have new information tonight on the role that Kim Yo-jong is playing at this summit and what the U.S. side thinks of her role. This young lady's star has been rising for years inside Kim Jong-un's inner circle, and we've learned she may have even acted as one of her brother's enforcers.


TODD (voice-over): When Kim Jong-un's armored train pulled into the station in Vietnam, she was the first person to get off. Only after she checked around did the North Korean dictator emerged.

She is Kim Yo-jong, Kim's younger sister. She may seem to be in the background, but analysts say she is increasingly and quietly at the forefront of her older brother's current charm offensive.

JOSEPH YUN, FORMER UNITED STATES SPECIAL REPRESENTATIVE FOR NORTH KOREA POLICY: She is there giving advice in terms of how best he can handle, you know, big meetings, the press, what to do. So she is, you know, all of the above, P.R. person, substance person, and making sure her brother is completely protected.

TODD (voice-over): From handing her brother an ashtray during a smoking break on the way to Vietnam to meeting with President Trump and exchanging documents with Mike Pompeo at the Singapore summit, she seems to be everywhere for her brother.

One diplomatic source tells CNN, the U.S. side sees it as a positive move that Kim Yo-jong is being drawn closer to the negotiations in Vietnam.

KEN GAUSE, SENIOR FOREIGN LEADERSHIP ANALYST, CNA: At the end of the day, she is the person that he can rely on in a way that he cannot rely on any other adviser. She comes from the same mother, Ko Yong- hui, and is somebody that he has grown up with that he feels very comfortable with and trusts implicitly.

TODD (voice-over): Kim Yo-jong is especially valuable to the regime's imaging, presenting the younger, softer, more modern face of the dictatorship. She led North Korea's delegation to the Winter Olympics last year where the regime unveiled its diplomatic offensive to the world.

GAUSE: She really kind of acquitted herself quite well at that -- at the opening ceremonies as opposed to Vice President Pence, who basically tried to avoid having any eye contact with the North Koreans whatsoever.

TODD (voice-over): But there are indications that Kim Yo-jong could also be one of her brother's enforcers. She's a top official with North Korea's so-called Propaganda and Agitation Department, which human rights monitors say punishes people who try to get information from the outside world.

And a new report from a group of defectors, which details Kim Jong- un's purges and executions, quotes a high-ranking North Korean official as saying Kim Yo-jong played a role in the 2013 execution of their uncle. We spoke to an author of the report.

KANG CHOL-HWAN, AUTHOR, "THE AQUARIUMS OF PYONGYANG" (through translator): All those major decisions, including these brutal executions, would have been decided by that inner circle of Kim Jong- un. Kim Yo-jong, his sister, is definitely one of them.

TODD (voice-over): Experts say her role in Kim's inner circle will only grow. Her brother's life, they say, depends on that.

GAUSE: Kim Yo-jong's role will be as a protector for her brother within the regime. It's someone that he will rely on to basically keep an eye on the regime and make sure that no one can move against him.


TODD: Analysts say one of Kim Yo-jong's most valuable characteristics to her brother is that she is nonthreatening unlike other close family members like Kim's half-brother, Kim Jong-nam, or his uncle, Jang Song-thaek, both of whom the dictator had killed.

Now, could Kim Yo-jong ever become a threat? Experts say that's not likely. She is savvy enough to steer away from that, they say. And as one analyst says, the system and the Kim family dynamics will not allow that -- Wolf.

BLITZER: You've also learned that Kim Jong-un's father also had his own sister in a very, very similar role.

TODD: That's right, Wolf. Kim's father, Kim Jong-il, trusted his own sister, Kim Kyong-hui, with his most sensitive secrets and counted on her as an adviser.

Kim Kyong-hui also did a lot to promote and educate her nephew, Kim Jong-un. Her husband, Jang Song-thaek, is the uncle who Kim Jong-un had executed in 2013. So for all of her work promoting her nephew, he made her a widow.

BLITZER: Lots of history unfolding right now. We'll see what happens tomorrow in Hanoi. Brian Todd reporting for us. Thank you very much.

Coming up, breaking news, Michael Cohen gets what lawmakers call an extensive grilling behind closed doors. And sources say the President's former fixer and lawyer apologized for lying in previous congressional testimony. But how will an ominous threat from a key Trump ally in Congress impact the rest of this week's hearings?


BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. Threatening Cohen. As the President's long-time fixer begins testifying on Capitol Hill, a Trump ally posts an outrageous and ominous tweet. Will it intimidate Michael Cohen as he's expected to publicly connect the President to his own confessed crimes?

An extensive grilling. Cohen has been facing a barrage of questions and offering up some surprises during his closed-door appearance before the Senate Intelligence Committee. We're standing by for new details on what Cohen revealed.

[18:00:04] All night long.