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Trump Slams Ex-Lawyer as He Cuts Short Kim Jong-un Summit; Michael Cohen with Intel Panel after Stunning Testimony; Interview with Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), Oversight Committee. Aired 5- 6p ET
Aired February 28, 2019 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST (voice-over): Happening now: breaking news. Cohen testifies again. Michael Cohen is wrapping up another day of testimony up on Capitol Hill. This time, behind closed doors with the House Intelligence Committee. We're hoping to hear from the committee chairman Adam Schiff as soon as that hearing is over.
Calling more witnesses: a day after Cohen's bombshell public testimony, accusing the president of the United States of multiple crimes, the House Oversight Committee chairman says various committees will investigate Cohen's allegations, including the president's role in hush money payments.
Walking out: President Trump heads home after cutting short his summit with Kim Jong-un. He walked out early after failing to reach a nuclear deal, blaming North Korea's demand for an end to U.S. sanctions.
But was the North willing to bargain?
And trusting Kim: in a shocking moment during the summit, President Trump defends Kim Jong-un in the brutal treatment and subsequent death of American student Otto Warmbier.
Why is he saying he believes the dictator's claim that he didn't know about the case?
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: Breaking news: at any moment the House Intelligence Committee should wrap up its closed-door hearing with President Trump's former lawyer and fixer, Michael Cohen. That comes a day after Cohen's explosive public testimony, directly linking President Trump to his own crimes.
Cohen alleges Donald Trump knew in advance about the release of stolen Democratic emails and says he broke the law as president by reimbursing Cohen for hush money payments.
The president is calling Cohen a liar and is complaining about the timing of that public testimony, which eclipsed his summit with Kim Jong-un. He's now heading home empty handed, cutting short the summit after failing to reach a nuclear deal and taking heat for defending the dictator in the brutal treatment and death of the American student Otto Warmbier.
I'll speak with Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, who questioned Cohen and our correspondents and analysts will have full coverage of today's top stories. Let's begin with our senior congressional correspondent, Manu Raju, on Capitol Hill.
Manu, what have the Intelligence Committee in the House been trying to get out of Michael Cohen?
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: We're expecting this hearing that has been going on 7.5 hours to conclude at any minute. At that point, Michael Cohen is expected to make some comments here. We're expected to hear from Adam Schiff, the House Intelligence Committee chairman.
It's unclear if they've gotten all their answers. It's expected this could perhaps be carried over into next week. But we believe a large segment of the questioning has focused on his false statements he made to this very committee in 2017 about the pursuit of the Trump Organization, of that Trump Tower Moscow project at the time when he testified before, he downplayed the role of the organization, the president, then candidate Trump's involvement. Said it ended all those talks dated January 2016. Now we have now learned it has at least occurred through the summer of that year.
A lot of questions about that, whether there was any White House role of the president attorney's role in editing the statement that he delivered to Congress and the president attorney's denied that they've had any role in changing the duration of the talk about duration, how long those talks went on and discussions about Roger Stone's communications that allegedly occurred with the president, at least one conversation Cohen revealed yesterday that occurred when Stone told the president, then candidate Trump, that he had reached out to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange about those stolen Democratic emails to get an advance notice about.
We've heard there have been lots of questions about that, whether there's any corroboration to that claim, that Stone and the White House have all denied. But, Wolf, a lot of things that came out of yesterday's testimony need a further probing, according to Adam Schiff, the chairman of the committee.
We'll see if they got the answers they wanted but we do expect that Cohen may not be the last time he's on Capitol Hill. He could potentially come back again.
BLITZER: I suspect he will. Based on Cohen's public testimony, Democratic committee chairs are telling you that they're gearing up for a lot more investigation threads about the president. RAJU: That's right. Elijah Cummings is the House Oversight Committee chairman, he told me that probably a big focus of his committee's investigation going forward will be over the hush money payments, including the president's involvement in signing for, paying off, reimbursing Michael Cohen for paying off Stormy Daniels' claim of having --
RAJU: -- an affair with the president right before the election. Michael Cohen released a check yesterday, a copy of the check that the president signed August of 2017. Elijah Cummings wants to look into that further, along with other people named throughout yesterday's hearing.
He wants to bring them back, to either reach out to them to question them or even bring them into a hearing. That could potentially include some of the president's family members, who could be contacted by this committee.
REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D), MD.: Follow the transcript. If there were names that were mentioned or records that were mentioned during the hearing, we'll figure out who we want to talk to and then we'll bring them in.
We got a lot of information that I think will be -- we may not look into it, our committee, but one of the five or six committees will.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
RAJU: So that could potentially include Donald Trump Jr., whose name was on at least one of those checks, as well as potentially even Ivanka Trump, her knowledge of the Trump Tower Moscow project. We'll see how they decide to pursue that.
But one person's name who continually comes up is Alan Weisselberg, the CFO of the Trump Organization. Cohen alleged yesterday that he had significant involvement in those hush money payments. Cummings is making pretty clear he wants to hear from him. We'll hear other committees probably want to reach out to him as well.
So this is the not over anytime soon. He says there could be five or six committees in the House side, investigating all of the allegations that came out yesterday in the hearing.
BLITZER: Alan Weisselberg has been working 40 years for the Trump Organization, going back to Trump's own father.
Manu, Cohen's faces a Republican call now for a perjury investigation by the Justice Department based on what he said yesterday. Tell us about that.
RAJU: Yes, two Republicans very close to the president, Jim Jordan, the ranking Republican, Mark Meadows, another member close to the president, sent a letter to the Justice Department, asking for an investigation into whether Michael Cohen lied to the House Oversight Committee over a variety of matters.
They say they're completely contradicted by court filings, by the Southern District of New York's claims, including whether Michael Cohen sought a White House job. He said he did not have any interest in working at the White House. They say that is contradicted by text messages seized by the Southern District of New York.
They also claim that Michael Cohen is saying he didn't defraud any bank is also a lie. They say that he did engage in some bank fraud although he pled guilty to making false statements to a bank, not bank fraud.
Nevertheless, there are several allegations like that throughout the referral, suggesting that he lied to this committee, lied to Congress again. Whether or not the Justice Department decides to investigate will be up to Bill Barr, the attorney general himself. Right now we're hearing from Lanny Davis, Michael Cohen's attorney, says there was nothing false in that testimony and calls these accusations baseless and partisan.
BLITZER: We'll see if at all where that heads. Thank you very much, Manu Raju.
As soon as Adam Schiff and company walk out of that hearing room, let us know what they have to say.
Evan Perez, Congress starts calling executives from the Trump Organization, family members, other witnesses.
Which of these pose the biggest threat potentially, to the president?
EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Alan Weisselberg, Wolf, knows everything. As you said a minute ago, he has been working with the organization for decades. He is the CFO of the organization. He has provided information under very limited immunity deal to the Southern District of New York.
He testified before the grand jury in the Michael Cohen investigation. But he knows a lot, lot more. So if the Democrats want to go there, you have to think he is witness number one.
His name kept coming up yesterday as Manu pointed out. After yesterday's hearing, he may be a household name. Rona Graff is obviously the president's long-time personal assistant. You have to think that she has seen and knows a lot of what happened, especially for a president who doesn't use email.
BLITZER: Hold on a second. Michael Cohen is walking out. Let's listen.
MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER TRUMP ATTORNEY: Thank you for waiting around for just me. There's not much I can say other than it was very productive. As I said, I'm committed to telling the truth and I will be back on March 6th to finish up. There's more to discuss. So thank you guys so much. I'm sorry you guys had to stick around all day long.
BLITZER: There's some news. He's coming back March 6th to continue his testimony before this committee.
Evan, not a huge surprise; we anticipated this committee, other committees, they have a lot of questions.
PEREZ: They do, Wolf. I think these closed door testimonies, the ones run by staff, they tend to be a lot more productive. You tend to have better questions. It's a lot more organized. Look, you could see Michael Cohen's face there.
PEREZ: He's pretty happy with what he's doing right now.
Going back to your question, I think Rona Graff, the president's long- time personal assistant knows a lot, a great deal about what happened, especially for a president who doesn't use email, he doesn't leave a lot of written records of a lot of his communications.
I think what you saw from Michael Cohen yesterday and probably behind closed doors today is a road map for these investigators.
BLITZER: We anticipate the committee chairman, Adam Schiff, will emerge from that room momentarily and will want to make a statement. We'll have coverage of that.
You make an important point. When there's a closed door hearing like this, they go into a secure room.
BLITZER: The members are there but they usually leave it up to the staff members to go ahead and do the questioning.
BLITZER: There's no five-minute time limit.
PEREZ: There's no five-minute time limit. You don't have a lot of members trying to preen for the cameras and ask terrible questions, which we sometimes see in these hearings, frankly. You have staff who are very schooled and very educated on the subject matters and ask really good questions.
BLITZER: Let me go back to Manu Raju on Capitol Hill outside that House Intelligence Committee hearing room.
It's a secure room.
Is that one of those so-called skips?
Is that where this is taking place?
RAJU: Yes, it is right in the basement on the House side of the Capitol. Michael Cohen making that comment that he will be back here March 6th to finish that testimony. He had a hard out tonight and had to leave at 5:00. So there are a lot more questions that members of this committee have.
We'll hear what Adam Schiff has to say when he comes out. Whether or not the things that he wanted to ask about, the conversations between Roger Stone and the president that allegedly occurred, the Trump Tower Moscow project, whether or not Donald Trump Jr. told the president about the Trump Tower meeting that occurred in 2016, all of which have been denied by various parties, what they learned from Michael Cohen.
We'll see how much Schiff decides to reveal. But this is in a classified setting. That's why right now it's hard to get too many details about precisely what Michael Cohen said in there. He didn't provide much on his way out. He would not answer any of our questions.
I tried to ask him about the criminal referral that two Republican members just did, referring to the Justice Department to investigate what they allege were his false statements to this committee. He did not respond.
Lanny Davis, his attorney, said I have responded and Davis has said those charges are meritless. Nevertheless, the interesting thing that Cohen revealed, he will be back here March 6th to finish his testimony, his fourth appearance on Capitol Hill before he heads to jail.
BLITZER: Maybe more. March 6th, he was supposed to begin his three- year prison sentence at a federal penitentiary in upstate New York on March 6th. But that was delayed for health reasons. He had shoulder surgery and he's recovering from that. He won't begin that prison sentence now until May 6th. So he will be out of jail for a while. So if they want him to come back for yet more testimony behind closed doors, in open session, there's plenty of time.
RAJU: Absolutely. And Elijah Cummings, I asked him before, would you even bring back Michael Cohen if he were in jail?
And he said absolutely he could. That's something he would be open to, perhaps compelling him to do that, if he needed to. At the moment, that committee seems satisfied with their questioning.
Senate Intelligence Committee doesn't seem to have any reason for bringing him back. But the House Intelligence Committee, the final one that wants to question him, probably, when he comes back March 6th, will be the final time he appears here on Capitol Hill.
And we'll see whether or not any of these allegations of him making false statements leads to further investigation of him, but nevertheless, he's not done answering questions. Members want to look into all the allegations he made, at least five or six House committees want to investigate the various crimes he has been alleging that the president was involved with over the years before he was a president and while in office.
So a lot more for members to investigate, what they come up with. We'll just have to see.
BLITZER: Yes, it sounds like at least the Democrats, the majority in the House Intelligence Committee feel this session -- that has been going on since 9:30 this morning -- was productive and they were getting a lot of answers. But now that they have to -- they want to continue this conversation on March 6th, which suggests to me, Manu and I'll ask for your thoughts, that they're getting new information. They think it's fruitful and they want to continue.
RAJU: Yes. That could be one way of looking at it. I was told by one member that they have been getting some new information. I've also been told that, at the beginning, it was going rather slow, there was a lot of discussion about the background and not real new information that had been revealed.
This was in the first hour or so of testimony. And House members broke to have a vote. That delayed it for another hour and then the Republicans had their chance to question as well. So they've been going back-and-forth about an hour each time, then a half-hour each time, 40 minutes each time for each side.
RAJU: Staff members have been doing the questioning. Some members themselves have been doing the questioning, the ones who have attended. Some of them have had to leave, have left early as well. So this has been going on for most of the day.
But there are a lot of questions of these, given the format, a lot of questions that have probably just not been asked yet, especially given the timeframe that Michael Cohen had to leave.
One reason why he has to come back. So how much new they've learned we'll have to see but clearly they've been pressing for answers for quite some time and they haven't gotten everything they want to learn at this point, Wolf.
BLITZER: We're told Adam Schiff, momentarily, will be walking over and making a statement.
Manu, stand by for a moment.
Here he comes, Adam Schiff, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. He will make a statement.
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CALIF.), CHAIR, HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Good afternoon. Just want to make a couple brief comments. And then happy to answer a question or two.
We had a long day but it wasn't a long enough day. We very much appreciate Mr. Cohen's cooperation. He has had obviously three very long days. He will be returning for additional testimony March 6th. And I think we all feel this was a very productive interview today where he was able to shed light on a lot of issues that are very core to our investigation. We were able to drill down in great detail. So March 6th will be the next part of his testimony. The following week, on March 14th, we'll have an open interview with Felix Sater on Moscow Trump Tower.
I should tell you, just to set your expectations, not every hearing is going to be like the open hearing with Michael Cohen. We're going to try to do as much as we can in open session. Some we can, some we can't. Next week with Michael Cohen will continue to be in closed session.
We have to look at these on a case-by-case basis in terms of the investigative leads as well as equities of the Department of Justice. But we will try to do as much as we can in the open. So those are the next two scheduled interviews of the committee. And with that I'm happy to respond to a couple of questions.
QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE) about the White House's role in editing potentially editing some of the statements that were made by Michael Cohen ahead of his 2017 testimony, what did you learn about that as well as the pursuit of the Moscow Trump Tower project?
SCHIFF: I won't comment on any of the substance of our testimony today. We will be, at the appropriate point, releasing his testimony publicly. We won't do that before his testimony is complete and we'll have to determine whether there are any investigative equities in terms of the timing after his second session with us.
I can say that, on a number of the topics he testified about yesterday we were able to go into great detail. But we covered a number of items and issues important to us that were not the subject of the hearing yesterday.
QUESTION: Mr. Cohen brought (INAUDIBLE) to back up his (INAUDIBLE) to Oversight.
Did he bring any specific documents (INAUDIBLE) with regard to Russia and the president?
SCHIFF: You know, we are in communication with Mr. Cohen and his counsel about further document requests following our interview today that we'll be able to discuss at our next session.
We also went through dozens of documents in our possession with Mr. Cohen. But we have additional document requests that we'll be in discussion with him about.
This will be the last question.
QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE) or refuse to answer (INAUDIBLE) help the committee with?
SCHIFF: He was fully cooperative and answered all of our questions and, you know, this has obviously been an excruciating time for him. And we are very grateful that he was as forthcoming as he was.
We made the same admonishment that my colleague, Chairman Cummings made so eloquently, much more eloquently than I, that he needed to tell us the full truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. And none of the questions we had for him went unanswered.
BLITZER: So there you have it. More news from Adam Schiff, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, confirming, March 6th, Michael Cohen will return behind closed doors and answer --
BLITZER: -- more questions from members of the House Intelligence Committee and the staff. He said today was a very productive interview with Michael Cohen and he said eventually they'll be releasing the transcript of all of these interviews with Michael Cohen but they want to wait until they complete their investigation before they do so.
Another bit of news, potentially very significant, on March 14th, Adam Schiff says, there will an open public healing with Felix Sater on the development of Moscow Trump Tower, what was going on there. There's some pictures with Felix Sater right now.
Evan, this is potentially very significant, A, that they're bringing Felix Sater in to testify but, B, that it will be in open session.
PEREZ: Absolutely. If we got a sense yesterday of the type of person that Donald Trump as a business man was in business with, this is a -- Michael Cohen, who the Republicans spent all day saying he is a liar, he's a cheat, all of these things, Felix Sater will be on the order of that.
He is somebody who, in the 1990s, was in business with the Russian mafia, he was actually convicted as part of that, some kind of stock fraud scheme. And years later became an FBI informant. And yet, despite all of that, he was involved in this scheme to try to build a Moscow Trump Tower.
He is the one that Michael Cohen was working with. There's a lot of communications between him and Felix Sater trying to deal with the Russians as they're trying to build this project and trying to go through the business arrangements of trying to deal with the Russians to build this project in Moscow.
Obviously those plans went on a lot longer than the president or his family ever admitted to during the campaign. So I think there's a lot we'll learn from him. Again, it will help underline what kind of business man Donald Trump has been all of these years.
He has been in business with scoundrels, people who are mobsters, people who lie, like Michael Cohen, who lie and cheat on their taxes. So I think you'll see a lot of the dirty laundry, the skeletons of the Trump Organization that the Democrats want to highlight as part of this investigation.
BLITZER: It's interesting; one of the reasons that Michael Cohen is about to begin in May a three-year prison sentence is because he lied before Congress --
BLITZER: -- under oath about the development of this Moscow Trump Tower project. So he basically wrapped up early in 2016 but later it was confirmed that it went through the summer of 2016, may have gone all the way up to the election and Michael Cohen keeps saying this was going to be worth hundreds of millions of dollars potentially for the Trump Organization and Donald Trump, if he were to lose the presidential election, was gearing up to make a lot of money.
BLITZER: And Felix Sater was at the heart of all those negotiations.
PEREZ: He was at the heart of those negotiations. And, in fact, I think Felix Sater probably helped get Michael Cohen in prison because it's his communications. He made it clear that those talks were going on a lot longer than Michael Cohen first admitted to when he made those false statements to Congress.
So this will be one of those days where the Democrats will use this to shine the light on the business practices, what kind of business man Donald Trump was all those years. He's famous for "The Apprentice."
But the point they're trying to make is that Donald Trump was essentially in business with mobsters, with all of the sort of scoundrels that he doesn't want you to know about.
BLITZER: Donald Trump, at various occasions, belittled any conversations he may have had with Felix Sater, barely knew the guy.
PEREZ: But according to Cohen, Sater had an office on the same floor as the president.
BLITZER: But the president, as a private citizen and elsewhere, he used to say, barely knows the guy, pooh-poohing the whole thing.
Stand by, I want to go back to Manu Raju.
So Manu, we got some significant news out of the House committee. You're there. You heard the chairman, Adam Schiff, say Michael Cohen will be back there March 6th and then on March 14th there will be an open hearing with Felix Sater.
RAJU: It's a real sign of what Adam Schiff has been saying, that he wants to investigate as part of his new chairmanship, look into any financial interests with the Russians. It's going to be a big focus of this investigation, the president's ties to Russia, what he's done business wise and the like and how that may tie back to the Russian interference campaign and looking at the Trump Tower Moscow project, the pursuit of that project, what actually happened is central to that.
And what they find out, whether it confirms Adam Schiff's suspicions or not, that is a separate question but it's something they want to investigate now going forward. So bringing back Felix Sater in the public is a rather unusual thing for this committee. Typically, witness interviews have been done, at least in the last Congress, behind closed doors. Adam Schiff has actually preferred that these --
RAJU: -- witness interviews be done behind closed doors. Bringing this out publicly will allow the public to see the pursuit and what was going on with the Moscow Trump Tower project, a real sign as to how they want to focus their investigation on that effort and as well as the president's financial ties that may exist with some Russian entities.
He would not comment about what happened behind closed doors all day, for more than 7.5 hours with Michael Cohen. I tried to ask Adam Schiff directly about things that he wanted to ask about, whether the White House was involved, the level of their involvement and editing the statement that was a false statement that was made back in 2017 that Cohen downplayed the role of the Trump Organization's effort to try to get financing for the Trump Tower Moscow project.
He did not want to comment about that, did not want to comment virtually about anything that happened today, saying they would release a transcript at some point. It probably won't be for quite some time. And they want to hear from him again on March 6th.
Significant that they want to open up one key witness interview. We'll see what they learn. But he tried to downplay expectations, saying don't expect what you saw yesterday to happen with Felix Sater in mid-March, perhaps a sign that he may not reveal as much as Michael Cohen did just yesterday.
BLITZER: We'll see what happens. Manu, stand by.
Joining us now, a member of the House Oversight Committee, who questioned Michael Cohen yesterday, Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton of here in Washington, D.C.
Thank you for joining us.
What's your reaction to what we just learned, Michael Cohen coming back to the House Intelligence Committee on March 6th?
DEL. ELEANOR HOLMES NORTON (D), WASHINGTON, D.C.: I'm really not very impressed because we didn't learn anything. I think yesterday's hearing was really important because you saw the real Michael Cohen. We haven't even seen what Michael Cohen -- what kind of information he has for the Intelligence Committee.
We couldn't bring it out in our own hearing because they told us do not touch that; that's for the Intelligence Committee. What we did see in Michael Cohen was a man who was as close to the president as anybody could be and closer, in many ways, than his wife.
He used Michael Cohen to verify a lie that Stormy Daniels didn't exist, for all intents and purposes. I think what was most important was not that there was a mountain of new revelations that came out yesterday. I think what was most important, we saw a man as close to the president as you could be, telling us that essentially the president was in on exactly these lies.
For example, this check that he produced, the Stormy Daniels check, that was conjured overtly between Cohen and the president. Of course, the president has had to admit that since, after disclaiming it altogether.
So I think that the Intelligence Committee ought to listen hard to Michael Cohen because he was as close to the president, doing his dirty deeds or not, as anybody you're going to hear from.
BLITZER: You also just heard that Felix Sater, former business associate of Donald Trump, will testify in open session before the House Intelligence Committee March 14th.
What light do you think he could shed on this overall investigation into the Moscow potential Trump Tower being built there?
NORTON: It's according to what he's really free to say. I mean, remember, we've had people who lied. On Cohen, we were pretty sure he was not lying because there was a terrible price to pay. As it was, he's already going to jail.
So I -- this is a name that has not come to us before, one of his business associates. Cohen is the first true associate we have had to -- we've been able to hear from. So I do think if you are able to get one of his business associates to really talk, you will hear from somebody very valuable.
I'm not sure there is anybody more valuable than Michael Cohen because you tell your lawyer things you wouldn't tell anybody else. Now the lawyer-client relationship, of course, doesn't exist here because of the crimes that have been involved.
BLITZER: Alan Weisselberg, the CFO of the Trump Organization, has limited immunity. He could be very valuable indeed. He is going to be brought forward. He has been working for the Trump Organization for some 40 years, going back to Donald Trump's father.
It's not clear if he has told prosecutors about anything other than the hush money scheme that was involved with Stormy Daniels but he has been, as I say, with the Trump Organization for decades.
Do you think Weisselberg may be able to provide additional insight to your committee, to other committees, about other potential crimes by the president?
NORTON: No doubt. I mean, finally, this man may know about taxes, the one thing we've not been able to get. But, he who knows about Trump's finances knows almost as much as Michael Cohen knows. And I say Michael Cohen knows everything because of the kind of trust you have to have with your lawyer. But the man who was writing the checks, that's the next person, I think, we all want to hear from. Because everything from his income taxes, to who he was writing checks to, to his bankruptcy -- bankruptcies, he's a big deal.
BLITZER: Did you find Michael Cohen, credible?
NORTON: I found him credible because not only because of how he presented himself. I had to think, what is the worst thing that could happen to this man? The worst thing could happen, remember, he is still under investigation, is that having lied and drawn a three-year sentence, he would lie again. I don't think he was lying yesterday.
BLITZER: How do you plan to act on Michael Cohen's claim that the President may have participated in bank fraud?
NORTON: Now, we're getting pretty close to the President's deep involvement and illegal matters. We -- this House has not been interested in peeking the President. And I don't think even as we are learning new things that seemed impeachable, that we're going to move forward to impeach him. And the reason I don't think so, is that an impeachment is nothing more than an indictment.
A U.S. attorney doesn't bring an indictment unless he knows he can move forward and get a conviction with the jury. And let's face it, the jury in this case, the Senate of the United States, is not going to move any more than it moved on the last -- the last time we tried this.
So, I think this creates a true dilemma because more and more of what we are learning, implicates the President in deep illegality and yet, the House is stuck on what to do.
BLITZER: Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton from Washington, D.C., thanks so much for joining us.
NORTON: Of course.
BLITZER: All right. Let's bring in our experts and our analysts to assess what's going on in this. It's all very, very dramatic.
Jeffrey Toobin, first to you, the news coming out of the House Intelligence Committee that Michael Cohen is coming back, more closed door testimony on March 6th and then, Felix Sater, a business associate who was involved in the plans to build a Trump Tower in Moscow, will be questioned at an open hearing before the House Intelligence Committee on March 14th.
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Well, this just shows that, you know, investigations generate their own momentum, or they die. And the question for the House Democrats now, is how much did they want to push this? And there is a lot they could do, but it's going to take a lot of initiative. You know, are they going to call Allen Weisselberg?
If they call him, are they going to vote to give him immunity, in the likely event that he decides to take the 5th? What about Donald Trump Jr.? What about Ivanka? What about the other Trump executive's name? You know, should they be open sessions or closed sessions? Do they want to subpoena documents as well as individuals?
I mean, all of this could be done but, you know, it would take a ramping up that the Democrats have not done in a long time. And it will certainly generate a lot of criticism from Republicans. So, we'll see whether they want to do it.
BLITZER: Why the Democrats are in the majority in the House of Representatives right now, that majority in the House Intelligence Committee. They're doing what the Republicans wouldn't do. So, that, once again, underscores elections, have consequences.
So, Samantha Vinograd, Felix Sater, we're going to be learning a lot more about this guy over the next couple of weeks, rather complicated background, as we heard from Evan Perez.
He was once in business with the Russian mafia, he was later convicted, became an FBI informant, at one point, was intimately involved with Michael Cohen in planning the development of a Trump Tower in Moscow that could've generated potentially millions, if not hundreds of millions of dollars. What do you think he will bring to the table?
SAMANTHA VINOGRAD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, let's just say here's another man with a less than stellar track record of associates and activities that President Trump sought to bring into his orbit. And Wolf, I really think it depends in front of whom he's testifying.
We just found out that he'll be testifying in front of the House Intelligence Committee and Democrats in the House are really playing this from a team perspective. We had the House Intelligence Committee that's looking into counterintelligence issues, so I would expect those kinds of questions to come up in his testimony in March.
And we have the House Oversight Committee, which has really limited its investigation to false statements by the President and debts and payments during the 2016 campaign.
So, we could see Felix Sater, Don Jr., Ivanka and others testify on different types of criminal behavior, depending on who they're in front of.
[17:35:01] BLITZER: Everybody standby. I want to bring in a key member of the House Intelligence Committee right now, Democratic Congressman Eric Swalwell of California, who just emerged from that all-day closed-door hearing with Michael Cohen. Congressman, thanks for joining us.
REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D), CALIFORNIA: Of course, Wolf.
BLITZER: Did you learn anything new from Michael Cohen's testimony today? SWALWELL: Oh, boy, Wolf, that would be an understatement. We learned a lot of new things. I can't go into them, we're still interviewing him. He's coming back next week. But there are very valuable new leads that we learned and he's been asked to bring back some documents to corroborate what he has told us. But we did find him to be cooperative and answered every question we asked.
BLITZER: So, beyond what he said yesterday, during the public hearing, before the House Oversight Committee, you're suggesting that additional new information was released very important, critical information. Is that right?
SWALWELL: Yes, wolf.
BLITZER: Did he -- did his testimony today behind closed doors --and I know you're restricted in what you could say until they release the transcript. Adam Schiff says at one point, they will release the transcript. Did he give your committee new reason to go ahead and subpoena additional witnesses in the investigation?
SWALWELL: We certainly have learned about additional relevant witnesses, and that includes what we heard yesterday on the Oversight Committee. And I think this is really also a matter of, you know, the different committees of jurisdiction sorting out, you know, which one will take up which witness.
But, I found him, Wolf, I have to say, different than when we interviewed him back in October 2017. There was just more of a carefulness to his presentation today. He did not want, you know, to say anything that could be misleading or inaccurate. I didn't see him demonstrate that concern when he testified in October 2017.
And I also - he -- you know, when he perjured himself before the Congress. He also now has a Sword of Damocles, if you will, hanging over his head, and that he has seen that Paul Manafort went from being a cooperative witness with the government, to lying during that cooperation agreement, and now faces 19 to 24 years in prison.
I just got the sense because Michael Cohen seems very concerned about his family. He does not want to touch that same hot stove.
BLITZER: Can you tell us what kind of documents you'd like to get that you want him to bring to your committee next time around?
SWALWELL: I wish I could, Wolf, but the pledge that Chairman Schiff has made is that we're going to try and make this transcript available, you know, as soon as, you know, the testimony is over and we checked to make sure it's not invading on any investigative -- open investigations that are out there.
BLITZER: Tell us why you want to bring Felix Sater, this mysterious individual who was involved with Michael Cohen in the planning of the Trump Tower in Moscow, why do you want to bring him before your committee?
SWALWELL: Felix Sater is a Russian-American who has worked with Donald Trump in the past, has worked to bring a Trump Tower to New York and is the one who pitched Michael Cohen on a Trump Tower in Moscow.
This individual worked on the 26th floor of Trump Tower, the same floor Donald Trump was on. He had a Trump organization business card, and so he's very close to Donald Trump, and very involved in the Trump Tower Moscow deal.
So, there will be public benefit to understand why a presidential candidate was seeking to put a tower in Moscow, at the same time that we're starting to learn about Russia's attacks on our democracy. I think that will be very illuminating.
BLITZER: Is he coming to your committee, voluntarily, or has he been subpoenaed?
SWALWELL: I don't want to misspeak on that, Wolf, so I'm not clear. I'll just say we do seek to have every witness come forward, voluntarily. I'm not aware of a subpoena that's been issued.
BLITZER: And why did you decide, you and Adam Schiff and your committee, to have his testimony be done in public?
SWALWELL: Because of the public value of understanding, again, you have a candidate for president of the United States, somebody who is also a business person and he's mixing the two. He's doing business in Moscow throughout the presidential campaign, beyond the Iowa caucus, the New Hampshire primary, and not just with the British or Mexico.
He's doing it with an adversary -- an adversary that we would later learn in the campaign was working against our interest and interfering in our election. So, it's important that the American people understand what Donald Trump's role was in that Trump Tower project.
BLITZER: The President says Michael Cohen's testimony yesterday, the President claims it proves his assertion there was no collusion. Michael Cohen did testify that he had no evidence of collusion. Although, he said he has his own personal suspicions of collusion. How do you see it?
SWALWELL: So, first, Michael Cohen said he has no direct evidence of collusion, but he has suspicions of collusion. And Wolf, as you know, in the law, direct evidence and circumstantial evidence are treated the same.
However, it's interesting that the President and his supporters in Congress like to pull out what helps them, as to what Michael Cohen says, but then dismisses everything he says that hurts them and calls him, you know, a convicted liar. You have to take the good and the bad here. And when you take the good and the bad, it's all bad for Donald Trump.
[17:40:05] BLITZER: Do you believe Michael Cohen provided key information to the Special Counsel, Robert Mueller, about the collusion part of the investigation? SWALWELL: I can just tell you, based on, you know, what we've seen from Michael Cohen's -- you know, his plea that he's provided hours of testimony to the Special Counsel. This is a team that's moving expeditiously, doesn't have time to waste. And I would just conclude that, you know, looking at how long he spent with them as compared to others who have been relevant. It would appear that he has been quite helpful to me.
BLITZER: What was your assessment, Congressman, of what Michael Cohen had to say about Roger Stone, Assange, WikiLeaks, the release of all those damaging Democratic Hillary Clinton e-mails during the campaign?
SWALWELL: You know, when I watched Michael Cohen testify yesterday, about the exchange with Roger Stone, it really had just confirmed what most of us had believed based on all of the arrows pointing in the direction that Roger Stone had told Donald Trump about what Julian Assange was doing.
We know from our investigation two years ago, Donald Trump and Roger Stone had been pals for years. They always talked about politics. They talked on the phone often throughout the campaign and they met in person often.
So, it would actually be a natural for Roger Stone not to tell Donald Trump about this. And just to take a step back, Wolf, Roger Stone says that his conversations with WikiLeaks were completely innocent. And if they were completely innocent, then why wouldn't he have told Donald Trump about it, if they were nefarious, and he was trying to protect him, then you could understand why.
So, it just adds up to everything that we believe we knew from our prior investigation.
BLITZER: Congressman Eric Swalwell of the Intelligence Committee, you guys have been busy all day. Thanks very much for joining us.
SWALWELL: Of course. My pleasure, Wolf, thanks.
BLITZER: All right. We got a lot more to discuss, much more, on all the breaking news right after this.
ANNOUNCER: The SITUATION ROOM with Wolf Blitzer, brought to you by Wells Fargo. This is a commitment to better banking. This is Wells Fargo.
[17:45:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
BLITZER: We're getting more breaking news right now, this time, courtesy of The New York Times. They've got an explosive article that had just been posted about Jared Kushner, the President's son-in-law, how he received the security clearances.
The New York Times saying the President of the United States, the father-in-law of Jared Kushner, personally ordered the U.S. Intelligence Community to grant him top-secret security clearances, overruling recommendations from the CIA and others.
Let me read a few sentences from this explosive article. President Trump ordered his chief of staff to grant his son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, a top-secret security clearance last year, overruling concerns flagged by intelligence officials and the White House's top lawyer, four people briefed on the matter said.
Mr. Trump's decision in May so troubled senior administration officials that at least one, the White House chief of staff at the time, John F. Kelly, wrote a contemporaneous internal memo about how he had been "ordered" to give Mr. Kushner the top-secret clearance.
The White House counsel at the time, Donald F. McGahn II, also wrote an internal memo outlining the concerns that had been raised about Mr. Kushner, including by the CIA, and how Mr. McGahn had recommended that he not be given a top-secret clearance.
Let me go to Samantha Vinograd who used to work for the National Security. You used to receive top-secret security clearances.
VINOGRAD: I did.
BLITZER: This New York Times story, adds that this disclosure of this memo, the order by the President, contradicts what the President said in an Oval Office interview with The New York Times in January, when he said he had no role in his son-in-law's receiving those clearances.
VINOGRAD: Well, I don't think any of us are surprised anymore when the President lies about process and counterintelligence issues. But let's just talk about what this actually means. In Layman's terms, the President of the United States knowingly directed his team to give a potential counterintelligence risk, Jared Kushner, access to the most sensitive information in the country.
So, he discounted what experts said and he put each and every American at risk because Jared Kushner is roaming the halls of the west wing. And according to the CIA and according to the intelligence community, Jared Kushner should not be trusted to access classified information.
We could have, and I'll stress the, could, a counterintelligence asset roaming the halls of the west wing because the President was either too ignorant or too narcissistic to pay attention to his intelligence community.
SABRINA SIDDIQUI, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE GUARDIAN: And remember, we don't know exactly what the problems were with Jared Kushner's security clearance but officials did raise concerns over ties between his and his family's real estate business and foreign governments and investors. He also --
VINOGRAD: Which are counterintelligence risks.
SIDDIQUI: We also know that he omitted from his forms dozens of foreign contacts and had to repeatedly amend those forms, and he was a target for manipulation by multiple foreign governments according to intelligence officials. So, once again, the President was, for his own personal gain, for the benefit of his family, willing to break from norms and overrule his own intelligence community.
BLITZER: As we're speaking, he is on a very sensitive diplomatic mission right now, throughout the Middle East, was just in Saudi Arabia, met with the Crown Prince -- was in the United Arab Emirates and other countries, discussing what he's trying to achieve some sort of Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement.
CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS EDITOR AT LARGE: Well, I mean, let's not forget the secretary of everything ruled that Jared Kushner is -- you know, we covered a lot but still, sort of, has his portfolio is vast, and this isn't to Sam's point. -This isn't -- it's not just the counterintelligence risk. We're talking about the top, top, top, top, top level of staff. It would be a concern at any level.
But we are talking about not only a man who has that a rule but a man who is married to Donald Trump's eldest daughter who also works in the White House.
[17:50:07] BLITZER: Jeffrey, what do you think?
TOOBIN: It's just nepotism, I mean, that's a simple -- you know, the President has the right to do this. I mean, he can declassify documents, he can -- he can grant security clearances. But what he has done is overrule the people who do this professionally for nepotistic purposes.
BLITZER: Everybody standby. There's more breaking news. We'll get back to this story, shortly. Because another significant story we're following, President Trump's former lawyer and fixer, Michael Cohen, he's wrapped up another day, this time, a closed-door testimony before the House Intelligence Committee. He's now due to return to that committee next week for more.
The hearing followed explosive public testimony in which Cohen accused the President of various crimes and likened Donald Trump's behavior over the years to that of a mob boss. Brian Todd has been looking into this part of the story for us. Brian, take us through what you are learning.
BRIAN TODD, CNN NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Michael Cohen and members of Congress compared the President to a mob boss, several times yesterday. Today, we spoke to law enforcement veterans and a Trump biographer, who made the same comparison.
They don't believe the culture of intimidation inside Trump's world has changed very much since he has come to Washington.
TODD: Through the eyes of Michael Cohen, working for Donald Trump is a lot like working for Tony Soprano.
MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER LAWYER OF DONALD TRUMP: 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.
TODD: Tonight, members of Congress are calling it a mob mentality, comparing the accusations Cohen made against the President, to the same tactics used by organized crime.
REP. JACKIE SPEIER (D), CALIFORNIA: 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?
SPEIER: Five hundred times?
TODD: Trump himself hasn't held back on insulting Cohen.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He's a weak person and not a very smart person.
COHEN: 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.
TODD: In his testimony before the House Oversight Committee Wednesday, Cohen described an environment inside Trump Tower, focused entirely on the boss. Someone everyone calls Mr. Trump, a place where Cohen didn't have to be told what to do because everyone speaks the same language.
COHEN: 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. JUSTIN AMASH (R), MICHIGAN: And it's your impression that others who work for him understand the code as well?
COHEN: Most people, yes.
ED MCDONALD, PROSECUTOR, FEDERAL ORGANIZED CRIME TAX FORCE IN NEW YORK: Mob bosses will not utter words that are likely to get them in trouble. They'll do things by inference, by suggestion. And people who have been around them, you know, in their crew or they're hangers on, or they're people who are their fixers, they know exactly what is meant.
TODD: Ed McDonald would know. He spent 12 years going after mobsters as a prosecutor in the Federal Organized Crime Tax Force in New York. McDonald played himself in the movie, Goodfellas, striking a witness protection deal with mobster, Henry Hill.
MCDONALD: I think you understand.
LORRAINE BRACCO, ACTRESS: I don't know anything.
MCDONALD: Come on. You don't know anything? Don't give me the babe in the woods routine, Karen. I've listened to those wiretaps. And I've heard you on the telephone.
TODD: It's that distinction between the President, giving Cohen a direct order, such as allegedly encouraging him to lie while testifying before Congress or Cohen, assuming he was doing what the boss wanted that could define if Trump committed a crime or not.
MICHAEL D'ANTONIO, AUTHOR, THE TRUTH ABOUT TRUMP: This is what Michael Cohen was getting at when he was saying, well, I understood what I was supposed to do. You were a better servant to Donald Trump if he didn't have to tell you, cheat this person, lie to that one and betray this one. It was all automatic. And that made him a good coppo, it made him a good conciliary in the Trump mob family.
TODD: McDonald says after watching how mob bosses operate. He thinks the President seems to almost relish the comparisons.
MCDONALD: We have a President who seems to go through life trying to imitate John Gotti, the former boss of the Gambino crime family. He starts off with the strut. Every time I see him, even in warm weather, he seems to be wearing the overcoat, the open overcoat, and he has the strut, the scowl on his face, and the whole demeanor, that you know, we don't take nothing from nobody.
TODD: The larger comparison is cultural, according to Cohen and Trump biographers. A culture they describe inside the Trump organization of threats, betrayal and one way loyalty.
D'ANTONIO: Donald Trump, like most mob bosses, doesn't feel beholden to the people beneath him. If he were loyal, he would have given Michael Cohen a job in the administration. He would have given him a pretty good job. I believe that Michael Cohen did not get a job because his children, Donald Trump's children, saw Michael as part of a servant class. They saw him as a guy who was good at being a thug.
[17:55:07] TODD: The White House has not weighed in on comparisons to the mob but White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders, has called Cohen a disgraced felon and says, "it's laughable that anyone would take a convicted liar like Cohen, at his word." Wolf?
BLITZER: All right. Brian Todd, reporting for us, thanks very much. We'll have much more on all of the breaking news, right after this.
BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news, more Cohen testimony.