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NYT: Trump Demanded Kusher Get Top-Secret Clearance; Cohen Returns To Capital Hill Next Week To Resume Testimony; Warmbier Family Rebukes Trump Over "Trust" Of Kim Jong-un. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired March 1, 2019 - 10:00   ET



POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: All right. Top of the hour. Good morning everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow. Jim Sciutto is on his way back from the Kim Jong-un-Trump Summit in Hanoi, and in the wake of that unsuccessful summit, and his former lawyer's excruciating public testimony on Capitol Hill, President Trump is facing new reports this morning that he directly intervened to get his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, top security clearance that he'd long been denied.

Just a month ago, the president told the "New York Times", quote, "I was never involved in those talks." But this morning the "Times" and the "Post" are both reporting that the president ordered his then Chief of Staff, John Kelly, to overrule the objections of career White House security screeners, and Kelly wrote about all of it in a contemporaneous memo to get his version on the record.

House Democrats already have a probe of White House clearance, is underway, and now they're threatening to subpoena documents if they have to. And if you thought that you've heard the end of it by now from Michael Cohen, the president's former lawyer and fixer, well you'd be wrong.

He is due back on Capitol Hill next week for more closed-door testimony. The president, on the other hand, has heard enough. This morning he, on Twitter, accused Cohen of, quote, "Perjury on a scale not seen before."

Let's bring in Sarah Westwood at the White House. Good morning, it's clear what's on the president's mind this morning.

SARAH WESTWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Poppy. And these new reports, they are raising fresh questions about how Jared Kushner was able to obtain that top-secret security clearance, and whether senior officials, up to an including President Trump himself, lied about that process.

Now recall that prior to last May, Kushner had a temporary security clearance, because of some concerns about his business ties, among other things. And Kushner has a very broad portfolio. He's involved in everything, from legislative strategy to Middle East peace. So that top-secret security clearance was key, because under the interim clearance, he was not able to see the most sensitive information in our government. Now, according to these reports, in May of last year, President Trump

ordered then Chief of Staff, John Kelly, to grant Kushner a clearance, and that directive prompted the creation of two memos. One, as you mentioned from Kelly, acknowledging that he had been ordered to grant Kushner that clearance. And another from then White House Counsel, Don McGahn, who, according to these reports, created a memo compiling the objections from intelligence officials, including those at the CIA to Kushner, receiving that security clearance.

And since then, both President Trump and his daughter, Ivanka, Kushner's wife, have denied that the president played a direct role in securing that clearance for Kushner. Take a listen.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't think I have the authority to do that. I'm not sure I did, but I wouldn't -- I wouldn't do it. Jared's a good -- I was -- I was never involved with the security.

IVANKA TRUMP: The president had no involvement pertaining to my clearance, or my husband's clearance.


WESTWOOD: Now, Kushner's lawyer also denied that this didn't go through the normal process. And Poppy, the controversy here is not so much whether Trump had the legal authority to do this, because experts say he did, but more that the White House may have deliberately lied about how Kushner was able to see top secret information, Poppy.

HARLOW: OK. Sarah Westwood, thanks for the reporting. Let's get reaction, what's going on in Capitol Hill, reaction in Congress to this. Manu Raju is back with me, our Senior Congressional Correspondent.

Do members of Congress care about this irregardless of party?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Well, Democrats, in particular, care about -- we haven't heard much from Republicans, but the House Democratic Chairman of the Oversight Committee, Elijah Cummings, is not happy with the White House, because he's been asking for documents back when he was in the minority last Congress about this.

They ignored it when he was in the minority, and then, when he became the chairman of this committee, he sent a letter demanding a range of documents about the security clearance practices, about what -- communications that went on through the transition, as well as the initial part of the Trump administration over a range of officials, including Jared Kushner.

They had a deadline to get information -- demanding information from the White House from early February and it still has not been met. So in the wake of this report, Cummings himself fired off a very angry statement, saying in a letter to the White House, "I requested specific documents and interviews relating to Mr. Kushner's clearance and a number of others. To date, the White House has not produced a single document or scheduled a single interview. The Committee expects full compliance with its request as soon as possible, or it may become necessary to consider alternative means to compel compliance."

And, of course, what that means, Poppy, is that subpoenas are coming if they do not get their answers any time soon.


HARLOW: Right. There's that and then there's Michael Cohen, like three days of testimony, was not enough. Why is it -- it's House Intel, right? That wants him back next week?

RAJU: House Intel will have him back next Wednesday for a closed session after they have more questions. Democrats, too, in particular, about any White House communications that may have went , editing that false statement to Congress that occurred back in 2017 when Cohen downplayed the Trump organization's effort to get financing for that Trump Tower Moscow Project he pleaded guilty to lying to Congress.

Now, he's accusing attorneys close to the President of editing that statement. The attorneys have denied that they won't get more information about that and other communications with the White House, so we'll see what he ultimately discloses behind closed doors next week.

HARLOW: Yes. All right. Really interesting and important, Manu. Thanks for all of that. We do also have this breaking news. We are just hearing from the family of the American citizen, Otto Warmbier, detained in North Korea. He came back, brain dead, pretty much, and then he passed away.

Now, we're hearing from his parents. Their first statement on the death of their son after the president seemed to support Kim Jong-un's version of all of this. Let me read you this in full from Fred and Cindy Warmbier. "We have been respectful during the summit process. Now we must speak out. Kim and his evil regime are responsible for the death of our son Otto. Kim and his evil regime are responsible for unimaginable cruelty and inhumanity. No excuses or lavish praise can change that. Thank you."

That is the statement from these parents of Otto Warmbier clearly still grieving the death of their son and his condition at the hands of the North Korean regime. Let's bring in Elaina Plott, White House Correspondent for "The Atlantic" and former National Security Agency attorney, Susan Hennessey. Ladies, let's take a moment in the wake of reading that statement from

Otto's parents and listen to what the president said when he was asked about this overseas this week in Hanoi.


TRUMP: He felt badly about it.

REPORTER: (CROSS TALK) TRUMP: I did speak to him. He felt very badly. He knew the case very well, but he knew it later. And, you know, got a lot of people, a big country, a lot of people. And in those prisons and those camps, you have a lot of people. And some really bad things happen to Otto. Some really, really bad things.


TRUMP: But he tells me -- he tells me that he didn't know about it and I will take him at his word.



HARLOW: Elaina. "I will take him at his word." You know what that reminds me of? That reminds me of the Helsinki Summit. "I will take Putin at his word," is what essentially, the president said. That reminds me of the murder of journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, which our intelligence community said was known by Mohammed bin Salman, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia

So now, a third time, the President of the United States is taking the word of an autocratic leader. Why?

PLOTT: It's amazing to me, how seamlessly these topics, you know, thread into what we were discussing earlier with Jared Kushner's security clearance, given over the objections of CIA officials, and other intelligence officials who believe that Kushner, because of his foreign contacts, was susceptible to being kind of molded in ways that they saw fit.

We've seen this play out in public in press conferences with Donald Trump, and the Helsinki Summit, as you just laid out, Poppy, and now, with respect to Otto Warmbier. And for Trump, it was enough for him to say that this is what Kim Jong-un told me, and thus I am taking it as fact. This is what we're seeing on the public stage mind you.

We have no idea what's happening behind closed doors, and it really does get at the crux, why this story that the "New York Times" broke about Kushner getting his security clearance over the objections of our nation's top intelligence officials is such a big deal?

HARLOW: Susan, does a statement like that from the president, believing Kim Jong-un on this, believing Mohammed bin Salman, on this too, the objection of our own intelligence, does that endanger Americans abroad?

SUSAN HENNESSEY, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY AGENCY ATTORNEY: I think it does in the long term, because what President Trump has shown is that he's happy to ignore the facts when it's inconvenient to him. He's happy to take the word of autocrats and dictators over his own intelligence officials, and over, frankly, common sense.

And I do think that over the long run, sort of, decoupling basic American values, that the reason why we have foreign policy, the types of values we are trying to project around the world to make it safe and free, to sort of give that up for this, sort of, mercantilistic, transactional approach, where what Trump really cares about is whether or not the the individual leader is flattering to him.

Now, whatever they might have done, whatever they might say, he's happy to just, sort of, take the convenient line.


HENNESSEY: I do think that undermines the United States's credibility and our commitment to our principles over the long term and in ways that will endure even after Donald Trump leaves the Oval Office.

Elaina, to the stories from the "Times" and "Washington Post" this morning about, you know, the president getting involved here in Kushner's security clearance and ordering John Kelly to give him this top-secret security clearance, I want everyone to listen to Abbe Lowell. This is Jared Kushner's attorney on CNN last May. Here's how he explained it.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN LEAD POLITICAL ANCHOR: Who made the decision to restore his security clearance. How did that happen?

ABBE LOWEL, ATTORNEY FOR JARED KUSHNER: The intelligence community and the FBI. It happened in the normal course. It happened the way it happens for thousands of people. There was nobody in the political process that had anything to do with it. There was nobody who pressured it. It was just done the normal regular way.


So that was last May. And, you know, I think it's possible, right Elaina? That that's exactly what Abbe Lowell was told and thought, and it's possible that that's what Ivanka Trump, you know, was told and thought. And that none of them were in the room with John Kelly, we just don't know.

PLOTT: We don't know, and it's a question that actually, as reporters, we have to consider no matter what we're covering with regard to this White House. I remember doing a report in December about how the White House has no plan or infrastructure in place to deal with the coming Mueller Report. Whatever it may say to have responses ready.

And what I was told by top officials in the White House, Poppy, is that what makes it so difficult for White House aides to prepare for anything with regard to Trump is that they don't even know if they're being told the whole truth with regard to whatever event is being discussed.

So yes, it's entirely possible that Jared's lawyer, this is precisely what he was told, so as to keep the flow of information tight. But it's just another strange factor of this administration that the principals, who should be clued in, are often not.


HENNESSEY: I think it's important to keep in mind that whether or not Lowell himself was lying, the president was clearly lying about this and there's a reason why. There's a reason why they're reassuring people that absolutely the president didn't personally intervene at all. And that's because it's so incredibly shocking if he had.

HARLOW: Right.

HENNESSEY: The White Hart is lying about this, because they recognize what an unbelievably serious violation this is that we're now finding out, regardless of who knew at the time, did in fact occur.

HARLOW: Right. And the fundamental question being, why was there concern over Jared's security clearance in the first place. And oh, by the way, now he's in the middle of really critical Middle East peace negotiations and talks, right? With a whole lot of sensitive information.

We have to leave it there. We have a lot to get to. Thank you both for being with us. And Elaina, I'm sorry, I mispronounced your name at the beginning. I apologize a little bit for that.

PLOTT: No big deal.

HARLOW: My apologies. All right. We're going to get much more on Otto Warmbier's family. His parents responding now to what the president said overseas about the death of this American citizen and taking Kim Jong-un's word for it.

Fareed Zakaria will join me after the break. Plus the butterfly effect. Could one sanctuary's legal fight over eminent domain stand in the way of the president's border wall.

And the family of Michael Jackson speaking with CNN. They're pushing back on allegations made in a new documentary, which details the stories of two men who accused Jackson of molestation.



All right. Welcome back. Otto Warmbier's parents have just responded to President Trump after he chose to take Kim Jong-un at his word that Kim Jong-un says he didn't know about the mistreatment that Otto Warmbier faced when he was detained by the North Koreans. Let me read you what Otto's parents are saying, quote, "Kim and his evil regime are responsible for the death of our son Otto. Kim and his evil regime are responsible for unimaginable cruelty and inhumanity. No excuses or lavish praise can change that."

With me now to discuss this and much more, Fareed Zakaria, host of CNN's "Fareed Zakaria GPS". It's really clear who they're talking about here with lavish praise, and by the way, I think it's worth noting that Otto Warmbier's parents had praised President Trump and really criticized the Obama administration. They'd praised Trump for bringing their son home.

FAREED ZAKARIA, HOST OF CNN'S "FAREED ZAKARIA" GPS: Yes. And, of course, they are right and Donald Trump is wrong. You know, Trump's remarks about Warmbier are incomprehensible. I mean, he talks about how this is a large country. How could he possibly know everything that was going on know?

No, North Korea is a small police state. It is run like a prison camp. The idea that an American, of all things, --

HARLOW: Right.

ZAKARIA: -- would be captured and tortured without the knowledge of the Supreme Leader is inconceivable, and in any event, why would Trump publicly say --


ZAKARIA: -- that he that he agrees with with Kim? I think, because Trump really does have a fascination and a some kind of affiliation with these strongmen. He likes them. He likes the idea that he goes mano-a-mano with them. He likes the idea that they have developed this bond, whether it's Putin, Mohammed bin Salman in Saudi Arabia here. And in all of those cases --


ZAKARIA: -- you remember. He always says, I trust -- you know, Putin tells me he didn't, interfere in the elections, and I trust him. MBS tells me he didn't order the killing of Khashoggi, I trust him. Kim tells me he didn't know about Warmbier, I trust him.

In all three cases, by the way, American intelligence says the opposite, but --

HARLOW: Right.

ZAKARIA: -- you have a strange, personalistic fascination that drives, I think, fundamentally from narcissism where everything is about him, and his relationship with these people.


HARLOW: Well, et's think about how it can endanger Americans abroad if other autocratic leaders and dictators think that they will be taken at their word, even if they detain or kill an American citizen. That's a big danger.

Let's talk about what's going on in Pakistan and India now, because this is look 70 years of history here. This is only the latest struggle and skirmish between these two nuclear powers. But what has changed is that the United States's support of Pakistan, under this administration, has really shifted toward India. How does that affect things?

ZAKARIA: Well, in general, the US had the ability to rein in the Pakistanis a little bit more than they do now, because they've lost that.

HARLOW: Right.

ZAKARIA: I don't think that it'll matter that much, because what happens with these dances between India and Pakistan, as you notice that there's a lot of noise, there are these skirmishes. There are occasionally, you know, across border strikes. And then sanity prevails and they pull back.

HARLOW: But that's because they have nuclear weapons.

ZAKARIA: It's precisely because they have nuclear weapons. It's a good example, frankly of deterrence working.

HARLOW: Right.

ZAKARIA: Now it works because these are both serious countries with serious militaries with serious processes in place.

HARLOW: Right. Rational actors.

ZAKARIA: Rational actors. Pakistan a little less so than India, but still what you see is, they let things get a little out of control, And now, particularly the Prime Minister of Pakistan, is reining things back.

You know, one has to worry. These are two nuclear-armed powers, but at the end of the day, deterrence does seem to work.

HARLOW: OK, good. I feel a lot better going into the weekend hearing that. You have a new documentary that is airing this weekend. I can't wait to see it, on Saudi Arabia. Let's play a clip, because of -- huge history here -- obviously, is oil, and you address this in in the documentary "Saudi Arabia, Kingdom of Secrets." Let's watch this.


HARLOW: Wow. So is there anything then, Fareed, in your view that Saudi Arabia could do that would end this alliance.

ZAKARIA: Well, as I say, it's important for people to understand, Saudi's control the price of oil more than any other country, and more than any single country, because they have the ability to open and close the taps in a way that nobody else does.

HARLOW: Right.

ZAKARIA: And so, even though we may be energy independent, people say --


ZAKARIA: -- well, it doesn't matter. It's Saudi Arabia that controls the price, so it can spike the price, it can add an instability that would be a huge deal. But I do think that what we have lost in this administration, is the recognition that you use American power in the Middle East to encourage the good things and discourage the bad things.

So you rein in these dictators and monarchs from doing the worst things in the world, and that means things like murdering Jamal Khashoggi, but also means waging a war on Yemen. We've given Saudi Arabia a blank cheque. There is no reason to give it a blank cheque. There is a reason for an alliance.

HARLOW: And the paradox of Mohammed bin Salman. This on the surface reformer, who's, letting women drive, etc. But it's a paradox, because, look at Khashoggi.

ZAKARIA: You have it exactly right. And this is what makes the story so interesting. He did let women drive, he did rein in the the police. He has allowed entertainment and movies. He's economically reforming, and yet he locked all those people in the Ritz-Carlton.


ZAKARIA: He ordered the murder of Khashoggi, as far as we can tell. You know, so the part of the thing about Saudi Arabia is nothing is what it looks like at the surface, and that's one of the reasons we did the documentaries, because we wanted to in a sense, pull back the curtain, and let you see everything.

HARLOW: And he's not even 40 years old yet, I believe. So this is someone who will hang on to power for a very long time probably.

ZAKARIA: He will probably rule Saudi Arabia for the next half century as long as his health and the monarchy stays solid.

HARLOW: It's remarkable. Fareed, thank you. You can watch the entire documentary, Fareed's CNN special report. "Saudi Arabia, Kingdom of Secrets." That Sunday, 8:00 p.m., only right here. And, of course, you can catch Fareed every Sunday morning, 10:00 a.m. right here on CNN.


HARLOW: After days of testimony, Michael Cohen, is returning to Capitol Hill for more. Next we'll talk to one of the congressmen who will be questioning him again, and did so just yesterday. What has he learned, and what does he still want to know? Ahead.


HARLOW: All right, welcome back. After three days of testimony on the Hill. It is not over yet for Michael Cohen. He will be coming back next week to answer more questions from the House Intelligence Committee after seven hours of closed-door testimony yesterday.