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Cohen Resumes Testimony; Rep. Jimmy Gomez (D-CA); North Korea on Talks. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired February 28, 2019 - 13:00   ET


[13:00:00] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Right here on CNN.

Thanks for joining us today on INSIDE POLITICS. See you back here this time tomorrow.

Don't go anywhere. A lot of news today. Brianna Keilar starts right now.

Have a great afternoon.

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

Underway right now, a president legally exposed, his former fixer implicating President Trump in several crimes, while one lawmaker warns there's another shoe to drop.

Plus, turns out the Republican at the center of the emotional standoff over race during that hearing has a history of birtherism.

And he came, he saw, he left. The president walks away from nuclear talks with Kim Jong-un without a deal.

And, an American citizen died after being detained in a North Korean prison, and yet President Trump gives cover for the despot in charge.

And Michael Cohen is back in the hot seat on Capitol Hill as we speak, a day after dropping bombshell after bombshell in an open hearing. The president's former personal attorney is testifying in front of the House Intelligence Committee behind closed doors.

CNN's Manu Raju is on Capitol Hill.

And, Manu, this is Michael Cohen's third straight day testifying. What are you hearing about today's testimony and the fallout from his public appearance yesterday?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, he's been in there since about 9:00 a.m. Eastern Time. We expect this to go on for most of the day today. He's been -- they are focusing, in large part, about the false statements that he previously gave this same committee back in 2017 about that Trump Tower Moscow project the company's -- the Trump Organization's pursuit of that project, the president's involvement and why those statements were initially -- that he initially lied to the committee. That will be a big focus going forward, as well as what he said yesterday about Roger Stone telling the president about his alleged efforts to reach out to WikiLeaks in advance of that data dump that hurt the Clinton campaign. They're going to expect to hear more about that.

But Republicans already going after Cohen's testimony, saying that he perjured himself on several accounts. Mark Meadows and Jim Jordan, two of president's closest allies, just sent a letter to the attorney general referring him for possible criminal prosecution over several statements that he made. They say they were contradicting, including that he was pursuing a White House job, which he said he was not. They're saying that is not true based on what they've -- based on the evidence that prosecutors have uncovered. They also said that he did -- he committed bank fraud, even though he said he did not defraud any bank. He did pleaded guilty to making false statements to a bank, but not bank fraud. Those are several other issues as well that they're pushing ahead.

But, Brianna, lawmakers are planning to investigate a whole slew of matters that came out of yesterday's testimony. Elijah Cummings, the chairman of the House Overnight Committee, told me just moments ago that probably a big focus of his committee going forward will be the president's role while in office over those hush money payments to silence those Trump affairs right before the 2016 elections and he expects all the other crimes that were alleged to be investigated by various committees. They're going to sort out all of that in the days and weeks ahead. So not over yet.

Today's testimony the final on Capitol Hill, but a lot more for these lawmakers to follow up on.


KEILAR: All right, Manu Raju on The Hill for us, thank you.

And in Michael Cohen's open testimony, there were many threads, including this exchange about the president's refusal to release his tax returns.


REP. JIMMY GOMEZ (D), CALIFORNIA: Can you give us any insight into what the real reason is that the president has refused to release his tax returns?

MICHAEL COHEN, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S FORMER ATTORNEY: Statements that he had said to me is that what he didn't want was to have an entire group of think tanks that are tax experts run through his tax return and start ripping it to pieces, and then he'll end up in an audit and he'll ultimately have taxable consequences, penalties and so on.

GOMEZ: So that's an interesting point that basically he said he didn't want to release his tax returns because he might end up in an audit. So could you presume from that statement that he wasn't under audit?

COHEN: I presume that he is not under audit.


KEILAR: That was an exchange with California Congressman Jimmy Gomez, who joins us now to talk about this.

So you are, as you pointed out, the only member of the Oversight Committee who's also on the Ways and Means Committee, which is the very powerful tax writing committee, and where the chairman has the power to get -- or at least request tax returns.

So when Michael Cohen said what he said yesterday about the president's tax return, what did you think?

REP. JIMMY GOMEZ (D), CALIFORNIA: You know, it was a big deal. I think it really told the American people that every excuse that the president had for not releasing his tax returns was just a complete lie. And if you really look and listen to what Cohen said, he said that potential tax penalties. And you only have tax penalties if you cheated on your taxes or you committed some kind of fraud. So I think it helps set up the request and provides some justification that the chairman needs to request President Trump's tax returns.

[13:05:11] KEILAR: So there gives a reason for asking, which would be an investigation. And in that case, as you look at the tea leaves here with what Michael Cohen said, with what the tax returns could show, do you think that the president could be prosecuted for tax fraud or for bank fraud or for insurance fraud if what Michael Cohen said can be corroborated?

GOMEZ: You know, one of the things we need to do is really kind of get more information. We need to take the financial statements that Cohen released yesterday and we need to compare those to the tax returns that the president has filed and then see if there's any discrepancies.

Also, I would love to kind of compare what those tax returns Cohen -- what Cohen has in his because there should also be some discrepancies. So we'll be setting the foundation to get those tax returns. We've got to be careful. We don't want to make this go the wrong way.

Listen, if I was running for president, I would release my tax returns. All you're going to find is that I owe $55,000 in student loan debt. I'm one of the poorest members of Congress. But, hey, when you're running for the highest position in the land, that's something you should do.

KEILAR: OK, so -- and the president's, obviously, are much more complicated, of course, with his business interests, we should point out. And Michael Cohen said that. He said that there are many, many pages, right? This is a big tax return.

GOMEZ: Correct.

KEILAR: He's seen it. He didn't pore through it, he said.

Michael Cohen brought up the president's family a few times. You know, he talked about Donald Junior quite a bit. Do you think that your committee needs to hear from Don Junior or Ivanka Trump or even Allen Weisselberg?

GOMEZ: I think I -- Allen Weisselberg is a -- is a key component. Eric -- Eric Trump, Donald Junior and Ivanka, I'm not sure what we'll get from them. But they all play a role in the family. And this is like any kind of organization where you have a lot of family individuals involved. They all have different positions and information. I'd love to hear some of the information they have. But Allen Weisselberg is probably the key person that we should all hear from, not only here in Congress, but the American people.

KEILAR: Would you want -- I mean one of the things Michael Cohen said yesterday was that he saw Donald Junior walk behind his father's desk, which was odd, and tell him something to the effect of, like, it's set up, or the meeting's set up, and that he was sort of trying to say something somewhat secretively to his father. Would you want to hear about that from Donald Junior or do you think that that's not -- do you think it's pointless to talk to Donald Junior about that?

GOMEZ: Listen, I would love to hear from Donald Junior in my capacity on the Oversight Committee. Ways and Means is a little bit different. But, personally, I think the American people have a lot of questions from what occurred yesterday. A lot of the statements that the -- that Trump made during the campaign have proven to be false. A lot of the statements when he made on his payments to Stormy Daniels have proven to be false. So I think the American people, a lot of my constituents, want to hear the truth. And that's what the Democrats are trying to get down to is the truth. What is the bottom line and why does Donald Trump not want his tax returns revealed?

And one of the things I want people to know, the tax issue is always what gets people in the end. It's not the crime, it's the taxes and the invasion of paying taxes.

KEILAR: Do you think after that hearing yesterday with Michael Cohen that you or your colleagues would be leaning harder into impeachment?

GOMEZ: Impeachment is a different matter, but I want to make sure that we do -- get more information regarding his taxes. You know, what his role when -- Trump's role when it came to a Trump Tower meeting, when it came to the building of a Trump Tower in Moscow, when it comes to loans, to Deutsche Bank. All those questions raise more red flags than anything else. And if Donald Trump wants to set himself, you know, have a clean slate and prove to the American people that he has nothing to hide, he should release his tax returns.

KEILAR: All right, Congressman Gomez, thank you so much for being on with us.

GOMEZ: Thank you so much.

KEILAR: We are still digesting the bombshells that came out of Michael Cohen's testimony yesterday. Many times it sounded more like a mob trial than a Capitol Hill hearing.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MICHAEL COHEN, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S FORMER ATTORNEY: Mr. Trump called me a rat for choosing to tell the truth, much like a mobster would do when one of his men decides to cooperate with the government.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Have you ever seen Mr. Trump personally threaten people with physical harm?

COHEN: No. He would use others.

He doesn't give you questions. He doesn't give you orders. He speaks in a code. And I understand the code because I've been around him for a decade.

REP. JACKIE SPEIER (D), OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE: How many times did Mr. Trump ask you to threaten an individual or entity on his behalf?

COHEN: Quite a few times.

SPEIER: Fifty times?

COHEN: More.

SPEIER: One hundred times?

COHEN: More.

[13:10:00] SPEIER: Two hundred times?

COHEN: More.

SPEIER: Five hundred times.

COHEN: Probably.

Everybody's job at the Trump Organization is to protect Mr. Trump. Every day most of us knew we were coming in and we were going to lie for him on something.


KEILAR: Laura Coates is a former federal prosecutor. Dana Bash, CNN chief political correspondent with us as well.

This was one of the more interesting parts -- there were so many, honestly, but this was -- this was interesting, this idea of, he didn't tell me what to do but I knew what I needed to do.

What did you think?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I thought the way that you introduced it was right on, that it did sound sometimes more like a mob trial than talking with a former fixer of the president of the United States. Because of those kinds of answers, and also, more importantly, beyond the way that he communicated with people closely to him, the allegations that Michael Cohen was bringing forward. We have been so understandably focused on Robert Mueller and on Russia

and also been talking about the things percolating in the Southern District of New York. But if you look at some of the allegations that he has going on here after that, tax crimes, insurance fraud, obstruction, suborning perjury, illegal use of a charity, and that's not even listing all of the allegations that he put forward yesterday. I mean it's almost hard for the committee to even begin to drill down on because there's so much, the volume is so high.

KEILAR: How do you see the president's legal exposure I mean as Dana's rattling things off here?

LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I mean, think about it, even if you went like zero for six, there's 18 different investigations into this president, his foundation, his organization, some roll (ph), even aside from Mueller's. So you have that really important thing.

This is kind of that bookend. You have the rock and the hard place. Certainly one of those is going to be the Mueller probe. But this is a really big deal.

As a prosecutor, though, it make it a harder case because you're always grappling with whether Cohen was a yes man, as in he followed a direct, explicit order, or was he a people pleaser, where I just gleaned from a glance or a pregnant pause and thought, oh, I know what you want me to do. If you're a yes man and there's an order and an explicit directive, I have an evidentiary hook to hang my hat on. If you are a people pleaser who tries to deduce from our conversation what you want, I don't have that direct connection and so it's a harder case.

Having -- to your point, though, mob trials are often tried on that circumstantial evidence of other corroboration. Other things that say, based on that implicit understanding, I acted. And I was either praised for it or I received some sort of payment for it, or maybe 11 installments of $35,000 to confirm that I knew what the deal was. so it's a harder case. And what he did was really signify in many ways that the way he conducted his business, if to be believed, is somebody who operated on an innuendo, explicit orders. But as a prosecutor, it's a harder sell.

BASH: But that's if there is no corroborating evidence, right?


BASH: I mean if you're talking about things like his charity, the application he put in for a loan from Deutsche Bank, there should be (INAUDIBLE) --

COATES: The actual personal check of $35,000.

BASH: Well, then there's that, right. I mean but there should be -- there should be paperwork, documentation, in theory, to corroborate.

COATES: And here's why you know there is. Because if you're Robert Mueller and you already know your -- you're using somebody as a cooperator to say, they've lied to Congress, a known liar.

KEILAR: They're not taking Michael Cohen's word for it. As we've long said that this is --

COATES: Yes, it's not a pinky swear.

KEILAR: He does have a credibility issue, but he also had reason to tell the truth yesterday, as so many people have pointed out.

So, the chairman of the committee, Elijah Cummings, he says there's so much material to go through now they're going to have to coordinate between five or six committees.

BASH: Yes. Yes. Well, that's exactly right. I mean it's really -- it's hard to imagine how much they have to go through and that, you know, if you kind of take a step back, it's not like this stuff wasn't out there for the past two years. This is one of benefits and one of the burdens of having an opposition party in the majority.

One thing, though, that I have been listening for very carefully is the "I" word, impeachment. And from everything that I've heard, both on air and in conversations I've been having with House Democrats, they're not going there yet. They're focused on what you just said, Elijah Cummings, that committee, other committees, digging in, trying to get more. And they don't even want to even talk about impeachment quite yet, perhaps not ever, because they understand the rock and the hard place. You're talking about that legally. It's even maybe more so politically.

KEILAR: All right, Laura Coates, Dana Bash, thank you guys so much.

BASH: Thank you.

KEILAR: One of the more stunning moments from the hearing, the claims of racialism, after a Republican used a black Trump employee to defend the president.

Plus, the other major story, no deal. President Trump walking away from his talks with Kim Jong-un. And we're now learning what advisers warned him against.

[13:14:55] And one Republican senator calls it reprehensible. The president giving Kim cover on the death of an American citizen.


KEILAR: In a rare event, North Korea's foreign minister holding a late night press conference. This is something that just hardly ever happens. And this is what was said that North Korea only wanted, quote, partial lifting of sanctions.

Now, this is contrary to President Trump citing the lifting of full sanctions. And this is something that is really extraordinary as the president has walked away from this summit without anything, really, without a deal, lowering some of the expectations going into it. We have former senior adviser at the State Department during the

George W. Bush administration and a visiting professor at Georgetown University, Balbina Hwang, and CNN global affairs analyst and staff writer for "The New Yorker," Susan Glasser.

[13:20:10] OK, so this is -- I guess my question is, there are many questions left unanswered, right?

So, Balbina, when you look at this, the idea that it would be sanctions, the article on sanctions, according to North Korea, that hamper the economy and the livelihood of our people. What's your take on this?

BALBINA HWANG, FORMER SENIOR ADVISER, U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT: Oh, that actually does mean full sanctions. I mean North Korea can parse all --

KEILAR: Removal of all sanctions.

HWANG: Well, that's the point.


HWANG: And that clearly what North Korea was after.

I actually don't think the United States walked away with nothing from the summit. I don't view the summit as a failure at all. I think this was actually the best win outcome possibility for the United States. I'm actually shocked. I was not expecting this of all of the -- all of the possible options. But this is actually, I think, a great outcome for the United States.

KEILAR: And why is that? Is it because walking away and saying, you know, like, no way, this is not something that we're going to stand for, it's just important to make that statement?

HWANG: Absolutely. And it was critical that President Trump did it face to face, eyeball to eyeball, with Kim Jong-un. And what's actually quite surprising to me is that President Trump didn't -- you know, he actually did it in a very, I think, measured manner and he didn't come off, you know, flying off the handle, which everybody thought he might because he's distracted with domestic issues at home. And, in fact, it was very important to keep this convivial relationship going with Kim Jong-un because I think the North Koreans finally understand that this president is going to stick firm to this policy.

KEILAR: Susan, what do you -- what do you think and what do you -- help us read between the lines, if you can, of what North Korea is saying and what they're not saying.

SUSAN GLASSER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Well, it's an interesting argument. I do think, you know, after the fact, you see a certain relief among people in both parties that President Trump walked away rather than accept a bad deal, which was the concern even among many of the president's own advisers walking into the summit. But, you know, I think clearly that is a little bit of after-the-fact

justification. The president himself was looking for a big breakthrough to announce. He said as such. They actually had a signing ceremony scheduled which they canceled. So it wasn't as though this was the plan all along. This was an embarrassing defeat for the president on the United States on the world stage and a blow to his prestige.

And I should also note that to many long-time observers of, you know, American foreign policy in the world, the president's words towards Kim Jong-un have been particularly shocking. This is not a matter of diplomatic (INAUDIBLE) or niceness. The president has sort of slavishly kowtowed, if you will, to the dictator of North Korea over and over and over again, including in the lead-up to this summit. And all those kind words, all that flattering amounted to real embarrassment to the United States.

KEILAR: He does portray himself, Balbina, as a deal maker, and he left without a deal.

HWANG: Absolutely. And that is what surprised me the most about President Trump just walking away and saying, I could not accept this deal. And so -- because I thought he would just turn into a deal no matter what. And my biggest fear --

KEILAR: A bad deal in your -- in your estimation.

HWANG: Yes, and just give North Korea something and anything.

So what I find amazing about this, and, again, I'm clearly against the tide here, but I think this was actually an incredible victory if -- I think the issue is, we are miss-defining what the original goals were going into this summit. Everybody thinks it was about just denuclearization, and President Trump had moved himself away from that goal, actually, already in Singapore. So this brings us back.

KEILAR: So what -- what's to be had?

GLASSER: Yes. No, I'm sorry, I've just -- I got to like throw the flag a little bit here. The president of the United States went publicly and told the country and the world and repeated it in writing and said it over and over and over again that their -- in Singapore, there was no more nuclear threat as a result of the negotiation, that he had achieved that. That was not misleading. And he put his own staff in an impossible position of having to negotiate after the fact a deal that he already claimed to have achieved. He didn't claim that. In fact, just a few weeks ago they were threatening to fire the director of national intelligence for testifying accurately that the conclusion of U.S. intelligence agencies was that, in fact, the Kim regime was not prepared to give up its nuclear weapons, which, as we saw in these failed negotiations, was exactly the case. The president didn't accept that finding and wanted to fire his own intelligence director as a result of it.

HWANG: I completely agree with you and your analysis and I was in agreement with you. That's precisely my point. He had undermined his own process right up until he walked out of that summit. That is why I am claiming that this summit outcome is actually a very positive win because what President Trump has finally done is turned back on the track that it originally was and supposed to be.

[13:25:03] And, in fact, now, what President Trump managed to do, which I actually thought was impossible, because -- exactly because Singapore had set the stage for the wrong path. He finally managed to put the ball back into North Korea's court. This is now North Korea's responsibility.

KEILAR: Just final word to you, Susan, do you think the ball -- do you think the ball is heading in the direction it should be now, to borrow -- to borrow whatever sports analogy we're using?

GLASSER: Well, look, I do. I -- yes, I'm not going to go with the metaphor.


GLASSER: But I think it's an important point, and I do agree that everybody seems relieved, in a way. Whether you attribute it to conscious action on President Trump's part or simply, you know, being dealt a bad hand in these two days of negotiations. But, either way, I do think it's fair to say that North Korea experts, that American foreign policy experts, many Republicans and many Democrats are relieved that President Trump chose not to take a bad deal here in Vietnam.

What comes next, obviously, we don't know.

KEILAR: Susan Glasser, Balbina Hwang, thank you so much.

It's always a good conversation when everyone does not agree. I will say, I enjoy that.

Coming up, a Republican lawmaker attempting to prove that Trump is not a racist, sparking a bitter back and forth.


REP. RASHIDA TLAIB (D), MICHIGAN: The fact that someone would actually use a prop, a black woman, in this chamber, in this committee is alone racist in itself.


TLAIB: Donald Trump is setting a precedent that the highest --

MEADOWS: Mr. Chairman --


KEILAR: And taking Kim Jong-un at his word, the president causing bipartisan outrage by giving the North Korean leader cover in the death of an American college student.