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THE SITUATION ROOM
Is Jared Kushner Security Threat?; Paul Manafort Looking for Pardon?; Interview With Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI); House Oversight Demands White House Info on Clearances, Asks Why Trump Hid His Role in Ordering Access for Kushner; Manafort Asks Judge For Reduced Sentence In Virginia Fraud Case; Says Mueller Vilifying Him Because He Can't Prove Collusion; Three Trump Org Executives Under Scrutiny After Ex- Fixer Michael Cohen Suggests They May Have Knowledge Of Crimes. Aired on 6-7p ET
Aired March 1, 2019 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Executives in the president's company may be among the next star witnesses to face Congress. Do three Trump Organization officials know of any crimes committed by their boss?
And speaking out. Otto Warmbier's parents say they hold Kim Jong-un responsible for their son's death, after the president said he trusted the dictator's denials. Tonight, Mr. Trump is responding to the rebuke.
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Brianna Keilar. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
KEILAR: We're following breaking news on Paul Manafort battling to limit his prison time ahead of his sentencing in Virginia next week.
In a court filing tonight, the former Trump campaign chairman's lawyers are arguing against the recommended sentence for his crimes. They're suggesting that Manafort is being railroaded because special counsel Robert Mueller hasn't been able to prove collusion.
Also breaking, a top House Democrat is raising grave questions about why the president apparently tried to hide his role in ordering a top- secret security clearance for Jared Kushner, his son-in-law and senior adviser. Oversight Chairman Elijah Cummings is demanding the White House turn over information that. And he's also asking about potential dirt on Kushner that might have prompted intel officials to warn against granting him that high-level clearance.
I will get reaction from Senate Judiciary Committee member Mazie Hirono. And our correspondents and analysts are standing by as well.
First, let's go to CNN senior White House correspondent Pamela Brown and CNN crime and justice reporter Shimon Prokupecz.
Pamela, what are Manafort's main arguments here for leniency?
PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, there are a few main arguments.
First of all, Manafort's team says that he apologizes for these actions, that these crimes were serious, but they claim that the proposal of 24 years in prison, which is what Mueller's team is asking the judge, is disproportionate to the crimes.
Basically, they're saying the punishment here -- the punishment that's proposed does not fit the crimes. And they are claiming in this latest filing that, because Mueller couldn't find any evidence of collusion that Paul Manafort was involved in, that they were so intent on charging him, they are now charging him for bank and tax fraud that goes back decades.
So here's what they say. "He worked hard and was proud of what he achieved. Mr. Manafort's career culminated in serving as an adviser and campaign chairman for then candidate Donald J. Trump's successful presidential campaign in 2016. Shortly after Mr. Trump's election, the acting attorney general appointed the special counsel to investigate allegations that Mr. Trump's campaign colluded with the Russian government to influence the 2016 election.
"In October 2017 unable to establish that Mr. Manafort engaged in any such collusion, the special counsel charged him in the District of Columbia with crimes unrelated to Mr. Manafort's work on the 2016 campaign. The special counsel's strategy in bringing charges against Mr. Manafort had nothing to do with the special counsel's core mandate, Russian collusion, but was instead designed to 'tighten the screws' and an effort to compel Mr. Manafort to cooperate and provide incriminating information about others."
Now, we should note this is not the first time that he has made this argument, his team has made this argument. They have been pretty persistent with this saying this to the judges, two different judges, and neither judge has bought this argument.
KEILAR: We just had Congressman Gerry Connolly on, and he said, this is clearly fishing for a pardon.
SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: It's quite possible. I mean, he's speaking to an audience of one.
However -- audience of one, being Donald Trump. However, this judge that -- Judge Ellis in Virginia, has been sympathetic somewhat to the Manafort team. He's the one who criticized what Mueller was doing, in fact, at one point saying that they were only putting pressure on Manafort because they wanted him to cooperate.
So this -- remember, he made -- it was a big splash when he said that. But, yes, this is the second time that we're seeing Paul Manafort's team put this in these arguments, that the core mission, what the Mueller team was brought to do was the Russia collusion investigation, and they keep highlighting that nothing -- so far, there have been no charges against Manafort that would even suggest any kind of collusion.
KEILAR: Which matches -- the president says no collusion. It matches very much what he asserts as well.
Is there a -- is there a case to be made by the Manafort team that these are things that normally would not be pursued legally, or is that just not true?
BROWN: Well, I think that this argument that, look, this is outside the scope of what Mueller is supposed to be looking at, is something that they may have some credibility in saying, because if you look at the mandate, it does say, this is about Russian collusion in the campaign.
But it also says, Brianna, that they can investigate any matters that arise or arose. So, in this case, Mueller's team followed the money. And they were able to trace this money from Russian oligarchs, Ukrainian oligarchs back to Manafort.
And so that is what they built this case on and built the bank and tax fraud charges on. But, again, that's not stopping Manafort's team from -- initially, they asked them to actually throw out the case. And then when that didn't work, they're still making this argument that this was outside of Mueller's mandate.
KEILAR: Did Manafort cooperate with Mueller because he was just under pressure with some of this evidence?
PROKUPECZ: So I would say partially, probably. There was a lot of pressure. I think after the trial, there was indications that they were going to try to cooperate, right before the trial in Washington, D.C., started.
Look, I think it's very clear and it's been very clear to us that they always wanted Manafort to cooperate. This was something that was being used to leverage pressure over him. Keep in mind, Rick Gates, who was facing similar charges, has been fully cooperating with the special counsel's team.
So, yes, and when they got him in there, they thought they were going to get a lot of good information out of him. And then now we know the judge has found that he lied. The other thing that they point out here -- and this is interesting -- is that the -- that Manafort was known to the State Department. He was known to U.S. officials.
This was a -- this is a big deal for them. They came out and they said, look, he was meeting with people in Kiev in the Ukraine at the embassy. They were well aware U.S. officials were well aware of what he was doing there, why he was there.
And I think the whole point of that argument is, well, if they thought he was doing something illegal back then or in the years leading up to the Mueller investigation, why didn't anyone charge him?
BROWN: But let's not forget, I mean, he is someone who broke the law and he acknowledged that he broke the law. He said that his crimes were serious.
And Mueller's team has made this argument that, look, it is true that maybe because -- if he wasn't the Trump campaign chairman that he wouldn't have been charged, but they make the argument, it shows how brazen he was, that he was committing these crimes, and then didn't think anything of becoming the campaign chairman, putting himself in the spotlight like that.
PROKUPECZ: And just quickly, one final note.
Let's not forget the Kilimnik whole thing, the meeting with the Russian, where he shared the campaign...
PROKUPECZ: Right. And that, they have said, the special counsel has said that is at the core of what -- the heart of their investigation. We don't see that addressed here, but...
KEILAR: He shared sensitive internal polling. It's a very good point.
Shimon Prokupecz, Pamela Brown, thank you.
Now to the breaking news on the president's role in getting Jared Kushner, his son-in-law, a top-secret security clearance. We have an update on the House Oversight Committee's efforts to get information from the White House on that.
Let's go now to CNN White House correspondent Abby Phillip.
What are you learning, Abby?
ABBY PHILLIP, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, Brianna, House Oversight Committee Democrats are growing frustrated with the White House and what they say is the White House's attempt to stonewall them on documents related to the security clearance issue.
Elijah Cummings, the chairman of that committee, tweeted earlier today that he asked of the White House whether or not two memos written by John Kelly, then White House chief of staff, and the White House counsel, Don McGahn, about Jared Kushner's security clearance even exist.
And according to comments, the White House declined to confirm or deny their existence three times.
PHILLIP (voice-over): Tonight, the White House now defending President Trump's power to grant a top-secret clearance to his son-in- law and top White House adviser Jared Kushner, over the objections of career intelligence officials who raised concerns about his background check.
QUESTION: Was the president involved in Jared Kushner's security clearance process?
KELLYANNE CONWAY, TRUMP SENIOR ADVISER: The -- we don't discuss security clearances. I'm not even going to discuss my own. But I will tell you that the president has the absolute right to do what was described.
PHILLIP: Counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway not standing by Ivanka Trump's claim in an interview three weeks ago that her father wasn't involved in the process.
IVANKA TRUMP, ASSISTANT TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: The president had no involvement pertaining to my clearance or my husband's clearance.
CONWAY: If Ivanka Trump chose to comment, then she probably has knowledge that some of us do not have. So, she has the right to do that.
PHILLIP: "The New York Times" supports that, last year, Trump ordered White House Chief of Staff John Kelly to grant Kushner's clearance, despite President Trump's categorical denial to "The Times" in an interview in January.
MAGGIE HABERMAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Did you tell General Kelly or anyone else in the White House to overrule security officials, the career veterans?
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No. I don't think I have the authority to do that. I'm not sure I do. But I wouldn't -- I wouldn't do it.
PHILLIP: And Kushner's lawyer Abbe Lowell's claim to Wolf Blitzer.
ABBE LOWELL, ATTORNEY FOR JARED KUSHNER: There is a special office that does security measures. They're all career 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.
PHILLIP: House Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings, in a sharply worded letter, is now demanding the White House turn over all documents related to security clearances by Monday.
Meantime, President Trump now back from his trip to Vietnam is firing back in a tweetstorm at his former fixer, Michael Cohen, two days after he testified before Cummings' committee in public.
MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER ATTORNEY/FIXER FOR DONALD TRUMP: He's a racist. He's a con man. And he's a cheat.
PHILLIP: The president suggesting that Congress demand a manuscript of Cohen's book that he claims is a love letter to Trump, tweeting: "Your heads will spin when you see the lies, misrepresentations and contradictions against his Thursday testimony, like a different person. He is totally discredited."
But as Trump remains fixated on Cohen, his comments this week giving dictator Kim Jong-un a pass for the death of an American student who was returned to the U.S. in a coma after months of detention by the North Korean regime is coming under fire.
The family of Otto Warmbier, who once sat with the first lady at the State of the Union address, now saying this: "Kim and his evil regime are responsible for unimaginable cruelty and inhumanity. No excuses or lavish praise can change that."
PHILLIP: And President Trump is now trying to clean up his comments on Kim.
He tweeted this afternoon: "I never liked being misinterpreted, but especially when it comes Otto Warmbier and his great family."
He adds: "Of course, I hold North Korea responsible for Otto's mistreatment and death."
But, in Vietnam earlier this week, he was asked specifically about whether he held Kim personally responsible for Warmbier's death. And he answered this way, saying: "He tells me he didn't know about it, and I take him at his word" -- Brianna.
KEILAR: Yes, it doesn't seem that he was misinterpreted.
Abby Phillip at the White House, thank you.
I want to bring in Senator Mazie Hirono, a Democrat who serves on the Judiciary and the Armed Services Committee.
Senator, thank you so much for being with us.
SEN. MAZIE HIRONO (D), HAWAII: Good evening.
KEILAR: So, in -- let's talk about this sentencing memo.
Manafort's lawyers, Paul Manafort's lawyers, former campaign chairman for President Trump, accuse the special counsel of vilifying Manafort and of spreading misinformation. And they say that there was no collusion.
When you see that argument, do you think that they are for their client fishing for a pardon from the president?
HIRONO: Whatever they're trying to do, I'm sure that when Manafort ports for the argument that this is some sort of a witch-hunt and that there's no collusion, that certainly catches the president's attention.
But the thing is, for Manafort, he will get sentenced. And if somehow the president pardons him, because the president thinks that pardoning Manafort will be good for the president, because, as I have said many times, the president cares about two things, protecting himself and money -- if he thought that it would do him good to do a pardon, he will do that.
But let's not forget that the attorney, the attorney general of New York, as well as the district attorney of New York, are totally prepared to bring charges against Manafort themselves, should Manafort get a pardon. These would be under New York law.
KEILAR: That the president could not pardon for, which is a very, very good point.
KEILAR: All of this comes as "The New York Times" and "The Washington Post" are reporting that President Trump ordered that Jared Kushner be granted a top-secret security clearance, over objections from his advisers.
What does it tell you that he ignored these concerns, not only from his advisers, but also from intel community folks?
HIRONO: It's very typical of the president that he does not listen to people who actually know what they're talking about.
And, for one thing, Jared Kushner does not have the qualifications to do the job that he's been tasked to do, which is to bring about peace between the Palestinians and the Israelis. Give me a break.
And then the -- and he never should have gotten a top-level clearance, because Jared Kushner does have business dealings in parts of the world that would create concerns for the intel community about him being compromised.
And the president continues to run this country as though it's a family business. And he certainly has family members around him to pretty much run the country as though it's a Trump family business.
So, for many reasons, it is not surprising that he wanted this clearance for Jared Kushner, and that he would lie about it, and then to be supported in that lie by Ivanka Trump and pretty much the rest of his people in the White House, who even refuse to talk about it now.
But I think Elijah Cummings should get to the bottom of this particular fiasco.
KEILAR: The president also on tape, when Maggie Haberman of "The Times" asked him, he lied, it appears, also about knowing whether he had the authority to do this. He does have the authority to do this.
KEILAR: He sort of said he didn't -- he didn't even know if he had the authority, at the time that he'd gone ahead and done this. What do you make of that, not only appearing to lie about whether or
not he did this, but even about whether or not he had this authority to grant clearances?
HIRONO: We all know that the president lies every single day.
And so I don't know how he keeps all his lies in place. But he just comes up with all kinds of responses that has no basis in fact. And this is yet another instance where he thought it would be OK to say, I don't know if I even have such power.
Yes, he does. And then it's always they then lie about it.
KEILAR: I also want to get your reaction to the president talking about Otto Warmbier. He said that he was misinterpreted after he said that Kim Jong-un did not know how Warmbier was being treated.
Of course, he came back in a vegetative state to the U.S. Listen, if you would, to exactly what the president said in that press conference.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
D. TRUMP: I did speak to him. He felt very badly. But he knew the case very well, but he knew it later. And, you know, you 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 happened to Otto, some really, really bad things.
But he tells me...
QUESTION: Why are you...
D. TRUMP: He tells me that he didn't know about it, and I will take him at his word.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KEILAR: He responded to the rebuke from the Warmbiers, saying that he blames North Korea.
He didn't blame Kim, though. And he said -- President Trump said that he was misinterpreted. What did you think about that?
HIRONO: Well, I would say that, in these kinds of matters, North Korea is Kim Jong-un on.
So, once again, the president tries to walk back. We all know what we heard. It's like, don't trust our lying ears or lying eyes. Give me a break.
So this whole thing was very tragic. And it again points out how the president is more than willing to take the word of dictators and murderers over the information that he gets from his own intel community.
KEILAR: All right, Senator Mazie Hirono, thank you for being with us.
HIRONO: Thank you. Aloha.
KEILAR: Have a great weekend.
HIRONO: You too.
KEILAR: And we have more breaking news ahead, as we dig deeper into the new sentencing memo from Paul Manafort and his complaints about the special counsel. Is the argument to the court also an appeal to President Trump?
And a trio of Trump Organization executives are now under scrutiny. Who are they, and what might they know about potential crimes involving the president?
KEILAR: We're following breaking news on Paul Manafort's lawyers arguing against a stiff sentence for the former Trump campaign chairman, and claiming that their client is being vilified by the special counsel.
Also tonight, House investigators appear eager to question three Trump corporation executives named by Michael Cohen in his testimony this week.
Let's bring in CNN political correspondent Sara Murray.
So, Cohen suggested that these three men may know about possible crimes.
SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right.
And, look, Michael Cohen has plenty of legal problems and plenty of credibility problems of his own. But now it appears he's creating new headaches for some top officials at the Trump family business.
MURRAY (voice-over): Some little-known Trump Organization officials may face congressional scrutiny of their own, after Michael Cohen suggested in his congressional testimony they could have knowledge of potential crimes.
REP. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ (D), NEW YORK: To your knowledge, did the president ever provide inflated assets to an insurance company?
OCASIO-CORTEZ: Who else knows that the president did this?
COHEN: Allen Weisselberg, Ron Lieberman, and Matthew Calamari.
MURRAY: At least one of those officials, Trump Organization chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg, has already been swept up in the investigation led by the U.S. attorney's office for the Southern District of New York.
Weisselberg was granted immunity for providing information Cohen's role in hush money payments to women alleging affairs with President Donald Trump. Trump denies those affairs. But Weisselberg's limited immunity deal doesn't guarantee he will be spared from inquiries from Congress or prosecutors looking into other matters.
And he could be a treasure trove of information. Weisselberg "knows where all the financial bodies are buried," a source previously told CNN, or, as Trump put it in one of his books: "He's been with me for 30 years and keeps a handle on everything."
D. TRUMP: Another man who has done a great job for me is Matthew Calamari, my chief operating officer. Matthew.
MATTHEW CALAMARI, CHIEF OPERATING OFFICER, TRUMP ORGANIZATION: Donald, you know I don't care for Jen very much. Got to be honest with you, because -- wow -- because -- well, I'm not doing too good.
MURRAY: Aside from that awkward moment in the limelight in the 2004 live finale of NBC's "The Apprentice," Matthew Calamari has kept a relatively low profile.
Trump liked how Calamari dealt with some hecklers at the 1981 U.S. Open tennis tournament and hired him as a security guard. Calamari climbed the ranks to become Trump's personal bodyguard and eventually chief operating officer.
D. TRUMP: I have got some of the best people in the world. I have guys lined up, believe me.
MURRAY: In his role overseeing Trump's security team, Calamari has come under scrutiny for reportedly allowing lax policies and using questionable force, particularly when Trump was using his private security team to deal with journalists and protesters during his 2016 presidential campaign.
The third official, Ron Lieberman, joined the Trump Organization after leaving his gig in 2007 at the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation. Now Lieberman works closely with Weisselberg on financial matters, a source tells CNN.
Since joining the company, he's helped Trump land high-profile contracts with this city, like the Ferry Point golf course in the Bronx, a particularly sweet deal for Trump that caught the eye of at least one lawmaker this week. OCASIO-CORTEZ: Taxpayers spent $127 million to build Trump Links in a
-- quote -- "generous deal allowing President Trump to keep almost every dollar that flows in on a golf course built with public funds."
And this doesn't seem to be the only time the president has benefited at the expense of the public.
MURRAY: Now, we know that the Democrats who lead House Oversight, as well as the House Intelligence Committee, have expressed interest in speaking to some of the people Michael Cohen named in his testimony.
Bri, so far, the subpoenas haven't started flying, but it's still early. We shall see.
KEILAR: Yes, we will see. We had a Democrat on earlier who was very interested in them, Congressman Connolly. So, we will see.
Sara Murray, thanks for the report.
Just ahead: Paul Manafort facing prison and fighting the special counsel until the end. Will a judge be swayed by his new legal filing?
And we will talk about the grave questions being raised about Jared Kushner and his connections, as the controversy over his security clearance reignites.
[18:30:27] KEILAR: We're following breaking news: Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort pressing a judge for less prison time ahead of his sentence next week and questioning Special Counsel Robert Mueller's motives. Let's dig deeper now with our correspondents and our analysts. Pamela Brown, to you first.
Let's read a portion of the sentencing memo. It's really interesting. Paul Manafort's lawyer write, quote, the Special Counsel's attempt to vilify Mr. Manafort as a lifelong and irredeemable felon is beyond the pale and grossly overstates the facts before this court. The Special Counsel's conduct comes as no surprise and falls within the government's pattern of spreading misinformation about Mr. Manafort to impugn his character in a manner this country has not experienced in decades.
And you have - I mean, you notice over and over, they talk about there's no collusion. And at least according to Democratic Congressman Jerry Connolly we had on feels like he really has an audience of President Trump here.
PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Right. I mean Jerry Connolly, said, look, is he fishing for a pardon here with what he has been saying? I mean you do make the point that he said repeatedly in this latest filing, or I should say, his lawyers said repeatedly, there is no collusion.
It is true, he is not charged with anything about collusion, which would be conspiracy in legal terms. Now, they are making the case that Mueller went outside of his scope because his scope was all about Russia collusion and this have to do with that. But it does raise the question of whether they are trying to send sort of a loud and clear message to that audience, one, President Trump, for a pardon by helping to make his case that the President himself says no collusion.
KEILAR: I want to get your reaction, Phil, to another argument from Manafort's team. They say, he quote, spent a lifetime promoting democratic values, unquote. And that his work in Ukraine was, quote, clearly designed to distance Ukraine from Putin, end quote. Does that - well, I don't - I mean, your laughter - you are laughing at it.
PHILIP MUDD, FORMER CIA COUNTERRORISM OFFICIAL: Time out. No, let me be serious. You play monopoly, you have a get out of jail free card. He had a plea agreement. It wasn't Mueller who decided whether that plea agreement was violated. Mueller said, it wasn't a judge concurred.
Manafort said, I don't know why Gates is cooperating. Gates was his deputy. A jury of his peers in Alexandria, that is Manafort's peer, said, forget about Mueller, I've seen the evidence particularly documentary evidence from your office, you're guilty.
Then we go to another process. You go on to say, what about probation? Early on, he violates a plea deal. He violates a probation, a jury of his peers says, he's guilty. And time and time again, judges and American citizens say, forget about Mueller. The guy is going to get three slops and a flop. He's going to go to a federal prison.
And the answer is not just because Mueller says you are guilty, it's because judges say you violated agreements. And a jury of your peers say, I don't care what you say about Director Mueller, Special Counselor Mueller. We looked at the law and we say, you are done. He is trying to divert attention.
KEILAR: Is it believe - with that said, Ron Brownstein, is it believable when - just fact check this. When the Manafort team says that he spent a lifetime promoting democratic values and that this pro-Putin candidate, he said, it was clearly designed to distance Ukraine from Putin. Does that even stand up the fact?
RON BROWNSTEIN, SENIOR EDITOR, THE ATLANTIC: Well, no. You know, the short answer is no. And as Phil said, this not merely a question of how he feels as if as how he is being treated by Director Mueller. I mean, he has gone through the legal process over and again and compounded his problems as he has gone along.
And so now, this kind of - this strong language, in some cases, that is barely germane, I think, to the immediate issues at hand really does look as though he is seeking to reach out to the President. Although you can imagine that among republican elected officials, the idea of pardoning anybody associated with this investigation before the 2020 election would be beyond the pale, I think, even from any elected republicans.
KEILAR: Sabrina, I want to ask you about another breaking story that we have been covering, which is reports from The New York Times and The Post that Jared Kushner's foreign connections - well, they're now under new scrutiny, but it's because the President, according to these reports, ordered a top secret security clearance for his son-in-law, right? He wasn't meeting the standard. So the President pushes it through. And this was against the recommendations of the White House Counsel, against the recommendations of the intel community.
And then the President denied not only this, but whether or not he even had the authority to do this when he talked to The New York Times.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MAGGIE HABERMAN, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Did you tell General Kelly or anyone in the White House to overrule security officials, the career veterans?
DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT: No. I don't think I have the authority to do that. I'm not sure I do.
HABERMAN: You do have the authority to do it.
TRUMP: But I wouldn't. I wouldn't do it.
HABERMAN: You never --
TRUMP: Jared is a good - I was never involved with the security. I know that he - you know, just from read, I know there was issues back and forth about security for numerous people, actually. But I don't want to get involved in that stuff.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KEILAR: Various lies, it appears, in that. What do you think, Sabrina?
SABRINA SIDDIQUI, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE GUARDIAN: This is a classic example of the White House misleading the American public and then trying to move the goalpost when they're caught in the midst of a lie. You had the President there deny any involvement in Jared Kushner's security clearance. Ivanka Trump in an interview just weeks ago said that her father had no involvement in Kushner's security clearance.
Now, the line is that you're hearing from the White House is, well, one, we don't discuss security clearances, and two, the President has got authority when it comes to security clearances, which is, in fact, the case. But the reason they didn't make that argument from the outset is because they knew that this was clearly an example of nepotism.
Jared Kushner had to amend his disclosure forms on multiple occasions because he had omitted more than 100 foreign contacts, which included contacts with then the Russian Ambassador to the U.S., the head of a state-owned Russian bank that was under U.S. sanctions. He was, of course, part of that Trump Tower meeting in June of 2016.
So there were a lot of reasons why he shouldn't have had a security clearance in the first place. But, of course, the President, once again, prioritized family over protocol.
KEILAR: What do you think about this, Phil?
MUDD: I think this is pretty straightforward. I find this scenario sort of funny, where people say, you know, why would the President do this? When you're in this business and you have a change in administration, and somebody says, the President of the United States would like to have this person get a security clearance, a couple of things are going to happen. First of all, people - they're not going to want to walk in the Oval Office and say, Mr. President, thank you very much, but we kind of decided we don't like for political reasons, we don't like your son-in-law. They want to give him a security clearance.
There is one other thing that goes on. Let me take you inside baseball, and I say this politely [ph], we couldn't stand security people. That's because you can't pick up the phone to them. If you pick up the phone to them and say, "Hey, by the way, I would like to see what happened to that polygraph and I'd like you to sort of interpret again what you think about Mr. Kushner's security background in terms of his business relationships overseas, for example, that he might not have declared. The security guys in my old business would say, I'm sorry, you do intelligence. We do security. So you can't interfere in that process. They're going to say, no.
KEILAR: All right. We have much more ahead with all of you. We have much more breaking news. We're going to get in a quick break. We'll be right back.
[18:42:38] KEILAR: Three top executives at the Trump Organization are under new scrutiny tonight following former Trump lawyer, Michael Cohen's testimony to Congress. We are back now with our panel
These are the people, Allen Weisselberg, Matthew Calamari and Ron Lieberman. Pamela Brown, this is someone we know democrats in the House side and they're now in power. They want to hear from these men. How likely is it that we're going to see them go before Congress?
BROWN: Very likely. The democratic lawmakers coming to particular who oversees, of course, the Oversight Committee has said that he wants to bring Allen Weisselberg, and he's the Chief Financial Officer at the Trump Organization. And also the other officials you mentioned, including Matt Calamari, because their names came up repeatedly during the hearing with Michael Cohen, particularly Weisselberg who was mentioned as part of the hush money scheme, that he oversaw all the checks that Michael Cohen was reimbursed for in those payments, so Stormy Daniels, at the end of the election. Matt Calamari is a senior official in the Trump Org.
What I'm surprised by though is that it took Cohen testifying in order for them to now say, hey, we're going to bring them before the committee, because it's well known that they are the top officials in the Trump Org, and the democrats have been looking at Trump Org.
KEILAR: What's to be learned from them, Phil?
MUDD: You know, boy, a ton. If I were republicans, I would be a little nervous for a couple of reasons. Number one, you try malign Michael Cohen for good reasons. People think he is not trustworthy. Let me give you one question for the guy who is in - the former CFO of the Trump Organization. Why did you write those checks? Why did the Trump Organization write checks to Michael Cohen? He says, we wrote them so he could pay Stormy Daniels. All of a sudden, all these arguments about Michael Cohen's lying, like, okay, we get two people saying that.
The second thing and the final thing I'd say is forget about all these people. There's a ton of documents behind these individuals. For example, documents about how buildings were declared for insurance purposes. Documents about how those buildings were declared to the IRS. Where are the documents? The equivalence of a check --
KEILAR: Devalued, so less money would be made.
MUDD: That's exactly right. So it's not just about who said what. It's about bring the documents to the table. Forget what the people say. I want to see the paper.
BROWNSTEIN: Yes. And so, you know, I think it's an interesting dichotomy that is going to be developing very quickly, which is that, in terms of these private sector targets for the democrats to investigate in terms of Trump's business and the way he - his charity and the way he has handled himself in the private sector, very little defense from the subpoena and the reach of the committee.
On the other hand, I think you're going to see - indications already are that this White House is going to be extremely aggressive about trying to use executive privilege to defeat democratic attempts at Oversight.
[18:45:10] We saw Matthew Whitaker refuse to talk. The letter responding to the requests for documents on security clearances perfect the White House, again, it's hinting at that.
And, you know, the Supreme Court in 1974, with the decision on the Nixon Watergate tapes, made clear executive privilege is not a limitless authority. I would think the odds are high that John Roberts is going to tell us what exactly the House Democrats can learn about a whole array of issues, because you can bet this White House is going to dig in, use executive privilege wherever it can to try to avoid, prevent some of this material from becoming public.
KEILAR: Sabrina, I want to ask about a different subject, and that is Otto Warmbier, who's back in the news after the president's summit with Kim Jong-un. He's the college student, the American college student who was detained by North Korea officials. When he was returned to the U.S., it was in a vegetative state. And he later died.
He said, President Trump, that he takes Kim Jong-un's word that he didn't know how badly Warmbier was being treated. The parents of Otto Warmbier were so upset about this, as you can imagine. The president responding to that said that he didn't like being misinterpreted. He said he does hold North Korea responsible.
What did you make of this?
SABRINA SIDDIQUI, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE GUARDIAN: First of all, the president made these comments at a press conference on tape where he specifically said that he took Kim Jong-un at his word. He did not hold him responsible for Otto Warmbier's death.
It's part of a pattern. He is willing to take Kim Jong-un at his word. He is willing to take the Saudi crown prince at his word with respect to the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. He sides with Vladimir Putin over U.S. intelligence authorities about Russian interference in the U.S. election.
And it's not just that he is willing to take the dictators at witness word. It's a part of a pattern. He also expresses admiration for them and for the way that they rule over their people, over dissidents, and his willingness to overlook human rights violations, and the question is why.
KEILAR: Sabrina, thank you so much. Pamela Brown, Phil Mudd, Ron Brownstein, thank you to all of you.
And we have much more breaking next. New developments tonight in the controversy over Jared Kushner's top security clearance. Why did intelligence officials not want him to get it?
[18:52:06] KEILAR: Breaking news this hour. The House Oversight Committee is giving the White House until Monday to turn over documents about security clearances including Jared Kushner's. The ultimatum following a "New York Times" report saying that President Trump ordered his son-in-law and adviser get a high level clearance despite concern among intelligence officials.
Let's dig deeper now with Fareed Zakaria, the host of "FAREED ZAKARIA GPS". And you were examining Kushner's role in the Middle East this Sunday
in your special report, "Saudi Arabia: Kingdom of Secrets". Fareed, tell us about this.
FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN HOST, "FAREED ZAKARIA GPS": Well, you know, on Jared Kushner, I think the important thing to realize is Donald Trump trusts him like almost no one else and thinks that he has a stake in it because of his, I suppose his own and his family's ties to Israel and a desire to have peace between the Israelis and the Arabs.
But the result is that Jared Kushner, this young man without much foreign policy experience at all, in fact zero foreign policy experience, is interacting with Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, who is himself a young man with very little experience, and the two of them are really forging the policy for the Middle East in a way that is really unprecedented. And the result is you have a certain degree of recklessness, shall we say, at the heart of the policy.
KEILAR: In this documentary, you reveal just how pivotal a role Kushner has played in the Trump administration's grand plan for the Middle East as you were just discussing. Let's watch a clip of this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ZAKARIA (voice-over): Donald Trump, a president with no previous foreign policy experience, saw Saudi Arabia as the linchpin of his Middle East plan.
TOM FRIEDMAN, COLUMNIST, NEW YORK TIMES: Donald Trump had no ambassador in Saudi Arabia. He did not understand the religious dynamics. He did not understand, I don't think, the regional dynamics.
ZAKARIA: He put his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, in charge of it all.
FRIEDMAN: This policy was being run on Jared Kushner's WhatsApp directly with Mohammed bin Salman, and Jared Kushner had no clue about the internal dynamics of Saudi Arabia, let alone how to manage such a young man. It was flat out crazy stupid.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KEILAR: This is highly unusual. What's at stake here, Fareed?
ZAKARIA: Well, a lot, because the United States has now in a sense subcontracted its policy in the Middle East to Saudi Arabia.
The United States has essentially said, whatever the Saudis want to do is okay with us. Wage a war in Yemen, that's fine. Engage in some shenanigans in Lebanon where they tried to effectively do a power play, fine. Blockade Qatar and isolate that country even though it has an American base there, that's fine.
[18:55:03] And of course, you have the murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi and Donald Trump has essentially from the start accepted the Saudi government's version of what happened. So, that is -- we have very rarely seen the United States simply subcontract its policy in a crucial part of the world to another country. Not that Saudi Arabia is, you know, particularly evil or monstrous, but our interests are different.
The United States has to protect its interests, and it's very unusual to see this kind of wholesale subcontracting. And it is because of the personal relationship that Donald Trump feels with Mohammed bin Salman and Jared Kushner feels with Mohammed bin Salman.
KEILAR: In that relationship and also the headlines with the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, many people find it so difficult to believe this was not done with knowledge from the highest levels of Saudi Arabia. With -- this has now been thrust into people's consciousness. So, with that said, what are you hoping people will take away here?
ZAKARIA: Well, I think the important thing we have to realize is the United States cannot dictate who runs Saudi Arabia. The royal family has been in power for a long time because they're good at it. And yet you have this horrific incident. So, what I try to do at the end is grapple with this paradox, this dilemma, and find a way forward for the United States for a better Middle East policy.
KEILAR: All right. Fareed, this is going to be wonderful and so informative. Thank you so much for doing this documentary, and we really look forward to seeing it. This is "Saudi Arabia: Kingdom of Secrets", Sunday night at 8:00 here on CNN.
And this Sunday night at 9:00, join us for the premiere of the new CNN original series, "THE BUSH YEARS".
Pierce Bush, the grandson of one president, the nephew of another, sat down with Wolf to discuss his experiences covering the Bush family.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PIERCE BUSH, GRANDSON OF PRES. GEORGE H.W. BUSH: What are some of your memories interviewing George H.W. Bush? You interviewed him when he was vice president, president, former president, correct?
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST, "THE SITUATION ROOM": Correct, and you know, you should be very, very proud of your grandfather, because he really was a truly remarkable man. He really saw his public service as critical.
I remember vividly the tsunami in Indonesia, and in Thailand when his son, the then-President George W. Bush, asked him and Bill Clinton to work together to underscore America's commitment to help the hundreds of thousands of people who were suffering, and they went to Thailand. They went to Indonesia. And I had a chance to interview them from the road.
He noted that here there was a former Democratic president of the United States, a former Republican president of the United States. They were asked to go represent the U.S. and they established this very close partnership, very close friendship. And your grandfather told me how he was determined to make this work.
And people there couldn't believe that these two presidents, former presidents, were working together.
BUSH: My uncle became president in 2000 and obviously, ran as a compassionate conservative, had a really kind of broad optimistic domestic agenda. And then September 11th happened here in the United States. America was attacked. And his presidency certainly changed.
BLITZER: Having interviewed him before 9/11, during the campaign, interviewing him after, one thing that really stands out in my mind is how 9/11 changed him. How the collapse of the World Trade Centers, the attack on Pentagon, the attack on Pennsylvania, the hijacking of those planes, he was a different man after 9/11 than he was before.
And you could see the concern he had every day that it could happen again. And he was going to do as president of the United States everything possible to make sure it didn't happen again.
BUSH: My family has achieved kind of a unique level of success in the political arena. What do you think it is about the Bushes? Because when I think of my family, I think of a family that is very loving. That gives the gift of unconditional love, which I do think allows you to take on challenges and try to do what's right and try to make a difference.
BLITZER: But I think it was public service. It was built in your grandfather, your uncle. It was so critical.
It was just part of your life that you have been blessed with a lot, and you got to give back. You have to give back to the community. You have to give back to the American people. I think that's what certainly came through. And as I said, you can be very proud of that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KEILAR: Sunday night at 9:00.
And finally tonight, on behalf of Wolf and the entire team, we want to wish the best of luck to our friend and colleague Adam Mintzer, as he heads off on his new on-air adventure in South Carolina.
I'm Brianna Keilar. Wolf will be back on Monday.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.